[Editor’s note: Today’s post is the third in a series by Dr. Sherri Nevada McCarthy on the topic of perspective-taking].
Many conflict resolution programs used in schools are built around enhancing children’s ability for perspective-taking. Harvard Graduate School of Education Assistant Professor Hunter Gehlbach notes that perspective taking plays an important role in classroom experiences. Teachers are encouraged to provide activities to help students develop these skills.
Gelbach suggests asking open-ended questions and presenting multiple viewpoints in class. Ask students for multiple right answers. Help them to develop a disposition that says, “Okay, I know what my point of view is, but is this how other people are thinking?”
“I don’t think social perspective taking is something which is currently rewarded in schools,” reflects Gehlbach. “It’s not punished, but it is kind of ignored.”
Social perspective taking depends on the context in which someone is trying to take another person’s perspective. According to Gehlbach, very little is known about how perspective taking happens and how effective different strategies are. “One strategy that people often use,” he explains, “is to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. But this could be a really bad strategy. If I’m very different from you and I project my background and my personal history into your situation, there’s a pretty good chance I would think something different from you.”
Perhaps you can remember some of the ways that you learned perspective-taking–either inside a classroom or outside. Please comment and share those experiences.
Sherri McCarthy, Professor of Psychology at Northern Arizona University-Yuma