Adoption of perspective (psychology)

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Perspective taking is the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes and see the world from their perspective.


In social psychology, perspective-taking is the process of looking at a particular situation from another person's point of view. A distinction is made between cognitive and emotional perspective adoption. Cognitive perspective assumption is the ability to understand another person's thoughts, motives and perspective, as well as to predict their behavior and reactions. Emotional perspective-taking is the ability to build an emotional connection to another individual, to empathize and empathize.

Perspective adoption vs. empathy

While perspective taking primarily relates to the cognitive process and is not necessarily associated with compassion, empathy is an emotional process in which one experiences the emotions of the other for oneself.

Types and strategies

Simulation theory vs. Theory theory

There are two general theories to explain perspective adoption:

  1. Simulation theory and
  2. Theory theory.

Simulation theory says that people understand and predict other people's behavior in analogy to their own behavior. The same mental activities and processes are generated in the simulation as in the other person. The simulator generates “as if” beliefs, desires or emotions, which are modeled on the beliefs, desires or emotions of the other person. Simulation includes three stages:

a) Identification: we pretend to be in another person's situation;
b) Replication: our own mental processes function in the same way as those of the other person;
c) Interpretation: The mental states which were involved in the replication are extracted and projected onto the other person.

In contrast, the theory-theory claims that people on the basis of lay psychological knowledge explain and predict the behavior of other people. We therefore have everyday psychological theories about mental processes. Everyday psychology is the sum of assumptions and guesses about how the human mind works.

Low-Effort and High-Effort Strategies

When adopting perspective, both low-effort and high-effort strategies are used.

Low-effort strategies include stereotyping and social projection . No great cognitive effort is required with these automatic processes . The perceived similarity to a target person / group, or the focus of attention (on differences vs. similarities), determines the use of the respective strategy. Dissimilarity, or a focus on differences, leads to increased stereotyping. Similarity, or a focus on similarities, leads to increased projection, i.e. H. your own perspective is transferred to the other person. Furthermore, a distinction is made between social projection and mirroring . Mirroring means “experiencing” the condition of another person, mediated by largely identical activations in the brain. It usually takes place with direct perception of the other person's condition.

High-effort strategies require a high level of cognitive effort and conscious processes. For example, with the egocentric anchor and adaptation heuristic, a serial adaptation process is assumed, in which one starts with one's own perspective and then this anchor is adapted to the (assumed) perspective of the other person. This model is based on the empirical connection between the similarity of the self and the other, as well as on developmental psychological findings. The process of anchoring happens quickly and automatically, adapting to the perspective of the other is cognitively more complex and a controlled process.

Level of perspective adoption

Level 1 perspective adoption describes the understanding that objects perceivable to oneself are not automatically perceptible to others. Level 2 perspective acquisition is the ability to imagine the same object from different perspectives, which can lead to different visual and emotional impressions. With direct measurement (e.g. verbal information), children can usually only solve level 1 tasks from the age of four. In the case of indirect measurement (e.g. measurement of eye movement), Level 1 perspective adoption was also demonstrated in one-year-old children.

Influencing factors and special forms

The ability to take on perspectives is influenced by various factors. For example, if a person is in a less emotional (cold) state, this person underestimates the influence that a very emotional (hot) situation can have on the preferences and behavior of another person. Since one's own mental state is taken as a reference, this leads to incorrect assessments.

Experience taking is a special form of perspective taking . This occurs when, while reading a novel / narrative, one suddenly assumes the identity of a character from this novel and imitates their thoughts, feelings, behavior, goals and characteristics as if they were your own. The highest level of experience taking is observed when a story is read from the first person perspective of a member of one's own ingroup . Experience taking can break down stereotypes and generate beneficial evaluations of the group of the protagonist .

Neural basics

Illustration of the mirror neuron network by Jan Brascamp

According to Singer (2006), the neuronal centers of perspective acquisition are the temporal polus (see cerebral poles ), the posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). In the case of processes of perspective acquisition that are assumed to be based on social projection, the research repeatedly identified the Default Mode Network (mPFC, Precuneus , cortex cingularis posterior , cortex parietalis lateralis ) as the relevant neural basis. This network is activated both when thinking about the mental state of others (taking on perspectives) and when thinking about one's own mental states (e.g. imagining one's own experience in a future situation). The network of mirror neurons represents the neural basis of the imitation. It is crucial that the abilities, goals and intentions of other individuals can be understood through mirror neurons, even though these were only observed.

For pain, it has been shown empirically that many areas of the brain responsible for processing pain are activated when someone is empathized with who is currently experiencing pain.

Research methods

Direct measurement

Direct measurement is a measurement in which - mostly verbally - a question or task is responded to with the correct answer or appropriate behavior. A classic example is Piaget's "Three Mountains Task," in which children are asked how mountains are arranged from another person's point of view. Direct measurements mainly involve self-reports; a current method that makes use of direct measurement is, for example, the e-scale by Leibetseder et al., which is a questionnaire to record empathy. The so-called self-other overlap is often used for the measurement . This is a form of self-report in which the perceived perspective assumption is recorded graphically.

Indirect measurement

The indirect (implicit) measurement measures the spontaneous sensitivity to differences in external conditions. This usually includes measurements of spontaneous behavior, such as gaze behavior, but can also include measurements that are obtained when adults are not explicitly asked to work on a task.


Direct and indirect measurements of perspective adoption often lead to different results. In most cases, the ability to take on perspectives can be demonstrated earlier or better in developmental psychology with indirect measurement.

Moderators / mediators

A number of factors can affect the quality, extent or speed of perspective acquisition. This includes the age of the test persons and their cognitive resources, but also time pressure, rewards or incentives and motivation (for example for accuracy).

Classic research paradigms

The most common research paradigms are the false consensus paradigm and the assumed similarity paradigm . One records the correlation between self (e.g. how would I like to do this?) And external assessments (e.g. how much would person X want to do this?). High correlations are seen as an indication of perspective adoption.

Positive and negative effects

Adopting perspective often leads to a high perception of similarity, identification and empathy with the person whose perspective is being adopted. This increases the likelihood that people will include the point of view of people outside their immediate social group. In addition, adopting perspectives promotes imitation ( mimicry ) and can reinforce helping behavior. In addition, adopting perspective enables an advantage in negotiation situations, as the situation can be better assessed from the point of view of the other person. Adopting perspective can reduce prejudices, stereotypes and social aggression, and contribute to building and strengthening social bonds. However, it is not clear when the adoption of perspectives leads to a reduction in prejudices. Some studies show that perspective-taking only leads to a reduction in prejudice in people with high self-esteem. This effect is not found in people with low self-esteem.

Adopting perspective can, however, also lead to the adoption of negative traits and behaviors. It can help to exclude people from their social group (in-group). Since the perspective of the other is not necessarily captured accurately through perspective assumption, an illusion of transparency and similarity with the other can arise, as well as an overestimation of the proportion of people who share one's own perspective.



Since there is no general definition of the term “perspective adoption”, related constructs (e.g. empathy) are often used. The two terms taking on perspective and empathy are also often used synonymously. The unclear demarcation between taking perspective and empathy continues on the neural level.


Many of the questionnaires used for measurement contain very vague formulations of the items . In addition, depending on the study, there are very different instructions or manipulations of perspective adoption. It must therefore be questioned whether the same construct is examined in different studies .

Practical importance

The practical importance of perspective adoption is unclear. For example, it is unclear whether perspective adoption can be trained. It is also often unclear when positive or negative effects are to be expected.


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Individual evidence

  1. ^ J. Perner, JL Brandl: Simulation à la Goldman: pretend and collapse . In: Philosophical Studies , 144, 2009, pp. 435–446.
  2. ADR Surtees, SA Butterfill, IA Apperly: Direct and indirect measures of Level-2 perspective-taking in children and adults . In: British Journal of Developmental Psychology , 30 (1), 2011, pp. 75-86.
  3. L. Van Boven, G. Loewenstein: Empathy gaps in emotional perspective taking . In: BF Malle, SD Hodges (Eds.): Other minds: How humans bridge the divide between self and others . Guilford, New York 2005, pp. 284-297.
  4. ^ GF Kaufman, LK Libby: Changing beliefs and behavior through experience-taking . In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 103 (1), 2012, pp. 1-19.
  5. ^ Singer, T. (2006). The neuronal basis and ontogeny of empathy and mind reading. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 30, 855-863. doi: 10.1016 / j.neubiorev.2006.06.011
  6. A. Waytz, JP Mitchell: Two mechanisms for simulating other minds: Dissociations between mirroring and self-projection . In: Current Directions in Psychological Science , 20 (3), 2011, pp. 197-200.
  7. ^ J. Piaget, B. Inhelder: The child's conception of space . Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1956.
  8. M. Leibetseder, AR Laireiter, A. Riepler, T. Köller E-Scale: Questionnaire for the assessment of empathy - Description and psychometric properties . In: Zeitschrift für Differielle und Diagnostische Psychologie , 22 (1), 2001, pp. 70–85.
  9. ^ AD Galinsky, G. Ku, CS Wang: Perspective taking and self-other overlap: Fostering social bonds and facilitating social coordination . In: Group Processes & Intergroup Relations , 8, 2005, pp. 109–124. doi: 10.1177 / 1368430205051060