Perspective-Taking

audience analysis

Empathy

Perspective-taking is the process by which an individual views a situation from another’s point-of-view. It can occur visually in that one changes their physical location to see things as someone else does, or cognitively in that one mentally simulates the point-of-view of another’s cognitive state. For instance, one can visualize the viewpoint of a taller individual (physical state) or reflect upon another’s point-of-view on a particular concept (cognitive state).

In other words, perspective-taking is the process of temporarily suspending one’s own point-of-view in an attempt to view a situation as someone else might. This process does not necessitate any form of affinity, compassion, or emotional identification with the other (i.e. empathy). Therefore, as an other-oriented activity, perspective-taking can be used to gain an understanding of a given physical state and/or situation after which a determination of appropriate action can be selected (e.g., empathy).It is important to understand that perspective-taking is exclusively the process of taking an alternate point-of-view. For example, one can perspective-take a fellow individual’s thoughts and feelings. However, the perspective-taking process does not necessarily lead to feelings of empathy. Rather, that determination may be made after the perspective-taking process has concluded. 18th century Scottish philosopher Adam Smith and 19th century British sociologist Herbert Spencer both wrote about perspective-taking as a ‘cognitive, intellectual reaction’ and empathy as a ‘visceral, emotional reaction.’ Because this differentiation is commonly overlooked, perspective-taking is frequently conflated with empathy, even in scientific literature. As research has explicated the perspective-taking and empathic processes, there has been a push to differentiate between these activities. One camp set forth a definition of empathy that includes the perspective-taking process; however, it is referred to as ‘cognitive empathy.’ Another developed the term ‘affective perspective-taking’ to describe the empathy construct.

The benefits and applications of perspective-taking show themselves in a wide variety of situations. Several studies indicate that perspective-taking has a positive impact on social interactions and relations and brings awareness to issues between disparate groups. Additionally, the consideration of the perspective of an out-group member increases identification with those individuals, which increases the likelihood of dominant group members to perceive a behavior/situation as discriminatory. Perspective-taking also facilitates in-group/out-group exchanges, reducing stereotype bias of out-group members and increasing individuals’ willingness to interact with out-group participant. Perspective-taking is a precursor to intergroup contact as distance in seating is significantly decreased between in-group and out-group members. It can also provide an advantage in economic transactions, allowing negotiators to view the dynamic from the opposing side’s point-of-view, which allows for the anticipation of opponents’ preferences and decisions. In sales negotiations, both perspective-taking and empathy by buyers leads to greater satisfaction of sellers; however, perspective-taking buyers achieve better deals than empathizing buyers.

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