[Editor’s note: Today’s post is the second in a series by Dr. Sherri Nevada McCarthy on the topic of perspective-taking, this time exploring its development in children and adolescents].
Perspective-taking is not the same thing as empathy. Knowing someone is sad, for example, and feeling sympathy and a desire to ease the pain is important in human relations, but not the same thing as understanding what sadness might feel like to that person, or why it exists.
Jean Piaget, a well-known developmental psychologist, considered perspective-taking an important component of cognitive development, and research seemed to show it generally did not emerge until at least the age of six.
Other research shows that, for some, it may never emerge. The ability to see things from another’s viewpoint may not just develop automatically with age. It is likely also tied into cultural, social and educational experiences.
According to Robert Selman, with experience and guidance, children generally move through five levels of perspective-taking following this pattern:
- First, at Level 0, “undifferentiated perspective-taking” (ages 3-6), they do not recognize that others have feelings, ideas or views different from their own.
- At Level 1, “social-informational perspective-taking” (ages 5-9), young children begin to realize that others might have different feelings or views than their own, but can’t consider what these might be, especially if those views or feelings are in opposition.
- At Level 2, “self-reflective perspective-taking” (ages 7-12), children begin to be able to consider the opinions and feelings of someone else as well as their own.
- Levels 3, “third-party perspective-taking” (ages 10-15) and 4, “societal perspective-taking” (ages 14-adult), which usually do not emerge until adolescence, allow increasing abilities to predict, understand and coordinate various perspectives.
As children mature, they take more information into account. They realize that different people can react differently to the same situation. They develop the ability to analyze the perspectives of several people involved in a situation from the viewpoint of an objective bystander, and they can even imagine how different cultural or social values would influence the perceptions of the bystander.
What have you noticed about how people do or do not see things from another’s point of view? And what difference does that make for issues of war and peace?
Sherri McCarthy, Professor of Psychology at Northern Arizona University-Yuma