What is perspective taking
Perspective-taking is the practice of trying to infer and understand another person’s feelings, thoughts, and viewpoint without directly experiencing it1.
Perspective-taking for kids is not only important for children, but also for parents and other adults.
Children start developing the ability to take on the feelings and perspectives of others between three to seven years of age2,3.
There are three types of perspective-taking.
Perceptual perspective-taking (or visual perspective taking) is the inference a child makes about how another person sees, hears, or perceives something from their location.
Conceptual perspective-taking, also called cognitive perspective taking, is the ability to recognize different thoughts and understand another person’s point of view, desire, attitude, or plan4.
Affective perspective-taking, or social sensitivity, is the ability to identify and understand the feelings of others5.
The ability to draw a correct inference appears to develop earlier than the ability to justify it6.
Two levels of perception
There are two levels of perception that develop at different times7.
Level 1 – visual perception
Children as young as preschoolers understand how different visual perceptions work.
They know that the only way to see an object is to look in its direction without your vision being blocked.
Additionally, they understand that they may see different objects from others and vice versa.
Level 2 – knowledge
As children grow, they begin to understand that the process of perspective-taking is an active, interpretative, and constructive activity.
People may interpret an ambiguous event differently depending on their past personal experiences, biases, or expectations.
Why is perspective taking important
Being able to understand the perspective of others provides the following benefits.
Understanding others’ perspectives is an important social skill that children need in order to make and sustain social relationships8.
Using affective perspective-taking, children can conceptually understand the roles friendships, authorities, peers, and themselves play9.
They can decipher other people’s actions and make social inferencing about others’ intentions.
They are also able to interpret other people’s words and predict what they will do next.
When children are less capable of affective perspective taking, they tend to miss subtle social cues in a social situation and cannot interpret the need to regulate their own behavior10.
Altruistic behaviors such as sharing candies with peers or donating money to a charity have been found to have a significant association with cognitive perspective-taking.
When children can consider other people’s perspectives, they have a better understanding of the need to help others11.
Having empathy is feeling the same emotion that another is experiencing, or very close to it. It is feeling together with the other person. Older kids who can recognize other people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors tend to have more empathy for others than those who don’t12.
Interpersonal problem solving
Taking others’ perspectives allows children to adopt more elaborate strategies for resolving interpersonal conflicts13–15. It is vital for interpreting issues, problem-solving, and reaching consensus16 during social interaction.
Emotional regulation and behavior management
Individuals who are easily angered and remain that way for an extended period of time create significant problems for themselves and those around them17.
Aggression and violence have been widely attributed to anger as a precursor18.
Perspective-taking facilitates emotion regulation by allowing one to perceive interpersonal provocation from other people’s viewpoints that do not lead to hostility or blame. It contributes to a child’s emotional intelligence.
Prevent bias and stereotype
Every individual has a unique perspective. We view each other differently than we view ourselves, and sharing the same environment doesn’t always lead to the same conclusions.
Insisting the perspective we hold is the only one that is appropriate tends to result in social problems and conflicts. Accepting individual differences in viewpoints brings people together instead of pushing them apart19. It reduces stereotypic biases20.
Seeing things from different angles can unlock one’s creativity.
According to research, diverse teams that engage in perspective-taking activities generate more creative ideas than homogeneous teams21.
Teaching new skills to children is important, but it is also essential to practice them ourselves.
Whenever parents discipline children to change their behavior, they are trying to shift the children’s perspective so that it agrees with theirs. Conflicts and power struggles often result if the children’s viewpoints are ignored22.
In order for our children to accept our viewpoint, we need to start seeing things from a child’s perspective first and show that we are taking perspective into consideration.
Empathic, warm, and responsive parenting
Parenting plays a significant role in the development of perspective-taking capability.
Empathic, warm, and responsive parenting facilitates the theory of mind, which is a form of perspective-taking that involves identifying different mental states to explain and predict others’ behavior.
Parents with a high level of empathy tend to encourage their children to take perspective23. These children show more empathy and prosocial behavior24.
Taking the perspective of another person is an essential skill that parents can teach their children by modeling.
According to research, parents who consider their children’s perspectives and offer mutual respect tend to be more supportive and responsive, which in turn promotes children’s ability to use mutual perspective taking25.
Comforted by others
Comforting a child when they are going through difficult times shows them that they are loved and cared for. A child’s perspective taking is associated with the comfort they receive from peers and adults26.
Teenagers who role-play can significantly improve their ability to take on different perspectives in social situations.
In perspective-taking training, adolescents are coached in social skills and act in multiple roles in typical problem situations. These teens are more able to resolve interpersonal conflict successfully and show empathy for others27.
Watching themselves on film is a great way to increase perspective-taking behavior in children. Through videotapes focused on them instead of the other actor, children are able to see things from the other side, allowing them to shift their focuses and attributions28.
- 1.Chandler MJ, Greenspan S. Ersatz egocentrism: A reply to H. Borke. Developmental Psychology. Published online 1972:104-106. doi:10.1037/h0033145
- 2.Borke H. Interpersonal perception of young children: Egocentrism or empathy? Developmental Psychology. Published online 1971:263-269. doi:10.1037/h0031267
- 3.Kesselring T, Müller U. The concept of egocentrism in the context of Piaget’s theory. New Ideas in Psychology. Published online December 2011:327-345. doi:10.1016/j.newideapsych.2010.03.008
- 4.Kurdek LA. Perspective taking as the cognitive basis of children’s moral development: A review of the literature. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 1978;24(1):3-28.
- 5.Rothenberg BB. Children’s social sensitivity and the relationship to interpersonal competence, intrapersonal comfort, and intellectual level. Developmental Psychology. Published online 1970:335-350. doi:10.1037/h0029175
- 6.Mossler DG, Marvin RS, Greenberg MT. Conceptual perspective taking in 2- to 6-year-old children. Developmental Psychology. Published online 1976:85-86. doi:10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.206
- 7.Flavell JH. Theory-of-Mind Development: Retrospect and Prospect. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. Published online 2004:274-290. doi:10.1353/mpq.2004.0018
- 8.Denham SA. Social Cognition, Prosocial Behavior, and Emotion in Preschoolers: Contextual Validation. Child Development. Published online February 1986:194. doi:10.2307/1130651
- 9.Selman RL, Beardslee W, Schultz LH, Krupa M, Podorefsky D. Assessing adolescent interpersonal negotiation strategies: Toward the integration of structural and functional models. Developmental Psychology. Published online 1986:450-459. doi:10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.110
- 10.Knafo A, Steinberg T, Goldner I. Children’s low affective perspective-taking ability is associated with low self-initiated pro-sociality. Emotion. Published online 2011:194-198. doi:10.1037/a0021240
- 11.Rubin KH, Schneider FW. The Relationship between Moral Judgment, Egocentrism, and Altruistic Behavior. Child Development. Published online September 1973:661. doi:10.2307/1128027
- 12.Hinnant J, O’Brien M. Cognitive and Emotional Control and Perspective Taking and Their Relations to Empathy in 5-Year-Old Children. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. Published online September 1, 2007:301-322. doi:10.3200/gntp.168.3.301-322
- 13.Marsh DT, Serafica FC, Barenboim C. Effect of Perspective-Taking Training on Interpersonal Problem Solving. Child Development. Published online March 1980:140. doi:10.2307/1129600
- 14.Krauss RM, Fussell SR. Perspective-Taking in Communication: Representations of Others’ Knowledge in Reference. Social Cognition. Published online March 1991:2-24. doi:10.1521/soco.1918.104.22.168
- 15.Mendelsohn M, Straker G. Social Perspective Taking and Use of Discounting in Children’s Perceptions of Others’ Helping Behavior. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. Published online March 1, 1999:69-83. doi:10.1080/00221329909595381
- 16.Corcoran KO, Mallinckrodt B. Adult Attachment, Self-Efficacy, Perspective Taking, and Conflict Resolution. Journal of Counseling & Development. Published online October 2000:473-483. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2000.tb01931.x
- 17.Bowman Edmondson C, Cohen Conger J. A review of treatment efficacy for individuals with anger problems: conceptual, assessment, and methodological issues. Clinical Psychology Review. Published online January 1996:251-275. doi:10.1016/s0272-7358(96)90003-3
- 18.Berkowitz L, Harmon-Jones E. Toward an Understanding of the Determinants of Anger. Emotion. Published online 2004:107-130. doi:10.1037/1528-3522.214.171.124
- 19.Todd AR, Bodenhausen GV, Richeson JA, Galinsky AD. Perspective taking combats automatic expressions of racial bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online June 2011:1027-1042. doi:10.1037/a0022308
- 20.Galinsky AD, Moskowitz GB. Perspective-taking: Decreasing stereotype expression, stereotype accessibility, and in-group favoritism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online 2000:708-724. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1998
- 21.Hoever IJ, van Knippenberg D, van Ginkel WP, Barkema HG. Fostering team creativity: Perspective taking as key to unlocking diversity’s potential. Journal of Applied Psychology. Published online 2012:982-996. doi:10.1037/a0029159
- 22.Gerris JRM, Dekovic M, Janssens JMAM. The Relationship between Social Class and Childrearing Behaviors: Parents’ Perspective Taking and Value Orientations. Journal of Marriage and the Family. Published online November 1997:834. doi:10.2307/353786
- 23.Ruffman T, Perner J, Parkin L. How Parenting Style Affects False Belief Understanding. Social Development. Published online December 25, 2001:395-411. doi:10.1111/1467-9507.00103
- 24.Farrant BM, Devine TAJ, Maybery MT, Fletcher J. Empathy, Perspective Taking and Prosocial Behaviour: The Importance of Parenting Practices. Inf Child Dev. Published online July 6, 2011:175-188. doi:10.1002/icd.740
- 25.Gondoli DM, Silverberg SB. Maternal emotional distress and diminished responsiveness: The mediating role of parenting efficacy and parental perspective taking. Developmental Psychology. Published online 1997:861-868. doi:10.1037/0012-16188.8.131.521
- 26.Burleson BR, Kunkel A. Parental and Peer Contributions to the Emotional Support Skills of the Child: From Whom Do Children Learn to Express Support? Journal of Family Communication. Published online April 2002:81-97. doi:10.1207/s15327698jfc0202_02
- 27.Chalmers JB, Townsend MAR. The Effects of Training in Social Perspective Taking on Socially Maladjusted Girls. Child Development. Published online February 1990:178. doi:10.2307/1131057
- 28.Day A, Howells K, Mohr P, Schall E, Gerace A. The Development of CBT Programmes for Anger: The Role of Interventions to Promote Perspective-Taking Skills. Behav Cognit Psychother. Published online May 2008. doi:10.1017/s135246580800430x