Perspective Taking: Misstepping Into Others' Shoes

Authored by: Nicholas Epley , Eugene M. Caruso

Handbook of Imagination and Mental Simulation

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  September  2012

Print ISBN: 9781841698878
eBook ISBN: 9780203809846
Adobe ISBN: 9781136678103


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The ability to intuit another person's thoughts, feelings, and inner mental states is surely among the most impressive of human mental faculties. Adopting another's perspective requires the ability to represent the self as distinct from others, the development of a theory of mind to realize that others have mental states in the first place (see also Saxe, Chapter 17, this volume), and the explicit recognition that others' mental states and perceptions could differ from one's own. Humans appear to be born with absolutely none of these capacities but instead develop them during the first few years of life (Callaghan et al., 2005; Flavell, 1999; Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1994). Developing these perspective-taking abilities appears critical for many of the good things in social life, from empathy, to cooperation, to possible acts of altruism. Not all humans develop these skills to equivalent degrees, and those who do not develop these skills to any degree are among the most puzzling members of society as they look perfectly human but act completely inhuman. Of course, humans are not alone in their capacity for self-awareness, their considerations of others' mental states, or perhaps even their awareness of differing perspectives and resulting mental states, but comparing the abilities of even the closest nonhuman relative is a bit like comparing sandcastles to skyscrapers (Hare, 2007).

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