Perspective taking

From Forum on Public Policy

Perspective taking is the ability to see things from a point of view other than one’s own. In describing perspective taking,

Moskowitz says: “We must be able to stand in the shoes of others, see the world through their eyes, empathize with what they are feeling, and attempt to think and react to the world in the same way that they think and react to the world.”1 Perspective taking is often referred to as or considered a part of the “theory of mind,” a concept introduced in 1978 by researchers Premack and Woodruff who tested chimpanzees to see if they understood that others had a different mind and point of view.2 Perspective taking, or theory of mind , is considered an important step in the cognitive development of children.

One of these skills that children develop that coincides with the development of their language skills is the skill of perspective taking. How exactly these two skills relate is currently a matter of debate among researcher. There is a strong relationship between language acquisition and perspective taking.

Inherent in perspective taking are many significant interpersonal values, including respect for different realities, appreciation for individual differences, objectivity, flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity, and nonjudgmental attitudes.Characteristics commonly associated with perspective taking are “patience, reasonableness and sensitivity,” which lead to more accuracy in judging others.

One definition describes empathy as “the ability to identify, experience and understand the emotions of
others and act to reduce the negative emotions exhibited by others.”

When language is rich in cues for perspective taking and perspective shifting, it awakens the imagination of the listener and leads to successful sharing of ideas, impressions, attitudes, and narratives. When the process of perspective sharing is disrupted by interruptions, monotony, excessive complexity, or lack of shared knowledge, communication can break down.30
Brian MacWhinney


In explaining why empathy might be an advantage in language acquisition, Baron-Cohen says that “language acquisition requires not just decoding heard words in a look-up table but identifying the speaker’s intended meanings (i.e., the speaker’s mental states).”
Simon Baron-Cohen, Do Sex Differences in Empathy Account for Sex Differences in Language Acquisition?

To begin with, Mertz and Lieber recommend using the “Believing Game” in class, which they claim “invites us to be more flexible, to recognize that everyone has ‘a piece of truth.’ Believing helps us move beyond ‘black and white’ absolutes to more tentative opinions, more original interpretations, and solutions that truly consider all points of view.” In the Believing Game, students are asked to listen to or read one person’s point of view while keeping their minds open to believing and accepting those ideas as truth. They then discuss and ask questions in order to more fully understand and accept that point of view. Only after they summarize the main tenets of the position can they start doubting and critically analyzing the position. Several more perspectives can be presented after that and the same process can be followed. At the end of the activity, students can report what they learned, if they were surprised by any of the information presented, and whether they found certain values or concerns common to all perspectives.
Gayle Mertz and Carol Miller Lieber
Suggestions for Using the Believing Game,” Educators for Social Responsibility

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