Perspective Getting is an approach towards understanding the mind of another person by directly getting information about that person's perspective. It is directly related to another approach towards interpersonal understanding called perspective taking, which involves making inferences about another person's perspective by adopting that person's point of view. Perspective Getting was conceptually developed after research on perspective taking found that perspective taking did not increase a person's ability to accurately understand the mind of another person. Subsequent research concluded that Perspective Getting, although a typically underestimated approach, does increase a person's ability to accurately understand another person's psychological experience. Although Perspective Getting is a relatively new approach to interpersonal understanding in the fields of Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience, scholars within these fields have placed an emphasis on social cognition processes that facilitate interpersonal accuracy and subsequently highlight the importance of Perspective Getting as an approach to accurately understand another person.
Perspective Getting is defined as an approach towards understanding the mental states, traits, and psychological experiences of another that involves directly getting information about that person's perspective, which can occur through simulation or direct inquiry. Perspective Getting as a formal concept was developed in contrast to perspective taking—which involves making inferences about the mental state, traits, and psychological experiences of another person by thinking about social situations from that person's point of view. If taking the perspective of another person is not enough to facilitate an accurate understanding of their perspective, then getting explicit information about that person's perspective intuitively is enough to facilitate an accurate understanding of their perspective. Perspective Getting, in addition to perspective taking, also relates to the concept of theory of mind, which is the assessment of a person's ability to empathize and understand others, because it is an approach towards understanding the mind of others.
Perspective Getting via simulation and direct inquiry are both considered bottom-up cognitive processes. Direct information that is new to a person is perceived via a person's sensory system and then works its way up to the brain where that information is processed. This is in contrast to perspective taking, which is considered a top-down cognitive process because it requires a person to shift cognitive attention from their own perspective in an effort to understand another person's perspective.
Perspective Getting can be achieved through what researchers refer to as 'simulation'. An individual can get the perspective of another person by putting themselves in the exact same situation as the person they are perceiving. Once they have directly simulated another's situation, they can use information about their own experience in that simulated situation to gain an understanding of the other person's perspective, what social psychologists refer to as 'effective egocentric projection.' For example, if a person is attempting to understand the emotional reactions another person had after viewing a picture, they could get the perspective of that person by viewing the same picture. Although this is a basic and feasible example, some situations might be increasingly difficult for some people to successfully simulate—such as the experience of homelessness, which some researchers have attempted to virtually simulate through the use of virtual reality technology.
Perspective Getting—direct inquiry
Perspective Getting can also be achieved through direct inquiry. A very intuitive and practical way of getting the perspective of another person is by directly asking that person about their perspective. In the context of close relationships, for example, if a person is attempting to understand how their partner feels in a particular situation, they can get an understanding of their partner's perspective by directly asking their partner how they felt in that particular situation. Seeing as direct inquiry involves the simple act of asking another person about their perspective, it is generally more feasible than the simulation approach for certain situations that are difficult for people to simulate.
Perspective taking and accuracy
Perspective Getting developed within the social psychological context of perspective taking and interpersonal accuracy. Interpersonal accuracy is defined as a person's ability to accurately assess the traits, mental states, and psychological experiences of others. Prior to the formal conceptualization of Perspective Getting, research on perspective taking alluded to perspective taking's ability to increase interpersonal accuracy. Thinking about the perspective of another person has, for example, the potential to focus a person's attention on situational cues that facilitate the accurate judgement of that other person and the situation they are in. Embodying or mimicking another person's bodily movements or facial expressions has similarly been found to potentially increase a person's ability to accurately recognize the emotions of those they are mimicking. Perspective taking can also create a sense of similarity between the thoughts, feelings, motivations and behaviors of the person taking the perspective and the person whose perspective is being taken, strengthening their interpersonal connection. Although this research alludes to perspective taking's ability to increase interpersonal accuracy, researchers note that this research does not explicitly measure interpersonal accuracy.
The limited amount of perspective taking research that explicitly investigates perspective taking's connection to interpersonal accuracy reveals entirely different results. When studying perspective taking's effect on interpersonal accuracy, researchers found that perspective taking did not increase interpersonal accuracy. In fact, research concluded that perspective taking can reduce interpersonal accuracy. Part of this research found that perspective taking drives a distinction between how accurate people think they are in understanding another person (perceived accuracy) and how accurate they actually are in understanding another person. For example, in intimate relationships, engaging in perspective taking creates the tendency for an individual to overestimate how transparent they think they are in the eyes of their partner.
After research revealed that perspective taking did not increase interpersonal accuracy, despite the fact that previous research suggested it did, social psychologists theorized Perspective Getting as an approach towards interpersonal understanding that would increase interpersonal accuracy. Nicholas Epley and his colleagues were the first to specifically refer to the idea of directly getting information about another's perspective as 'Perspective Getting'. They have conducted experimental research explicitly on Perspective Getting which they connect to additional social psychological research that involves people directly getting information about another person's perspective as a means of gaining an understanding of that person—although this work does not directly use 'Perspective Getting' as a key term.
Getting another's perspective through simulation has been found to have a positive effect on interpersonal accuracy. People are, for example, more likely to accurately predict the social pain of those who have been excluded in a social situation after they themselves have been socially excluded in the same way. People are also more likely to accurately predict another person's experience during a physically painful procedure after being subjected to that same physically painful procedure. Research also reveals that Perspective Getting through simulation leads people to more accurately understand their own minds in future situations: a person can more accurately predict how they themselves will feel in a given situation after they get the perspective of someone who has already experienced that situation. Despite the benefits of Perspective Getting via simulation, studies have found that people tend to underestimate it as an approach to successfully understand the mind of another.
Research also outlines the conditions that make Perspective Getting through simulation successful at increasing interpersonal accuracy. Getting the perspective of another person by directly experiencing the situation that person is in increases interpersonal accuracy because it creates similarity between the perspectives of the perceiver (the person attempting to understand another person) and target (the person attempting to understand another person). It is only when a perceiver experiences a situation in the exact same way as the target that the perceiver can reliably use their personal experience in that situation to accurately understand the target's experience. This creates a limitation for Perspective Getting through simulation if not enough similarity between two perspectives is generated when one person engages in Perspective Getting via simulation. Perspective Getting via simulation in these cases is not effective at increasing interpersonal accuracy and has even been shown to decrease accuracy. For example, able-bodied individuals attempting to understand the experience of those who are blind by simulating blindness were more likely to inaccurately perceive the adaptability and capability of those who are blind.
Perspective Getting—direct inquiry
Getting another person's perspective by directly asking that person about their perspective also has a positive effect on interpersonal accuracy. Research has, for example, measured the effectiveness of Perspective Getting against perspective taking in increasing interpersonal accuracy between romantic partners. Participants were able to more accurately predict their partner's reaction to opinion statements after they directly got a sense of the range of their partner's opinions (Perspective Getting via direct inquiry) as opposed to predicting their partner's reactions after attempting to see the world through their partner's eyes (perspective taking); this was true even for married couples of over 10 years who presumably have come to know their partners well. Although Perspective Getting made couples more accurate at understanding each other, the study also revealed the participants were less confident using the Perspective Getting strategy because they underestimated it as an approach to accurately understand their partner's mind.
Additional studies have also confirmed the efficacy of direct inquiry as a measure of people's attitudes: perspectives people have about specific objects, events, ideas, or other people. Measuring participant attitudes through direct self-report (where a participant is directly asked to report their attitude towards something) proves to be effective in getting an understanding of participant attitudes which resulted in accurate prediction of participant behavior based on those attitudes. Similarly, in the context of racial attitudes, self-report measures involving more direct assessments of people's racial attitudes prove to be the best method of measuring people's racial attitudes.
Perspective Getting through simulation and direct inquiry both increase interpersonal accuracy, but in different ways. Perspective Getting via simulation is only successful when enough similarity is generated between the perspective of the perceiver and the target. Perspective Getting through direct inquiry is considered a more feasible approach in situations involving perspectives that are difficult to simulate. Despite the fact that Perspective Getting via simulation and direct inquiry both increase interpersonal accuracy compared to perspective taking, people still tend to underestimate Perspective Getting as an approach towards accurately understanding the minds of others.
Emphasis on accuracy
Social psychologists and social neuroscientists interested in social cognition emphasize the implications of research that centers interpersonal accuracy. Social cognition researchers are mainly interested in how people make sense of the minds of other people because such research provides insight into how accurately people do so. This insight allows researchers to understand the social and cognitive conditions that enable people to accurately understand the minds of others, subsequently leading to useful predictions of when individuals accurately understand each other during interpersonal interaction (and when they do not).
Interpersonal accuracy affects the outcomes of interpersonal interactions. The extent to which people accurately understand each other when interacting with one another is related to how positive the outcome of the interaction is. For social cognition researchers, this further highlights the importance of approaches that properly facilitate interpersonal accuracy. The benefit of Perspective Getting as an approach that allows people to accurately understand the psychological experience of others therefore carries important implications for the ways people interact with each other.
Challenges of introspective approaches
The scientific literature on Perspective Getting sheds additional light on the difficulties associated with top-down processes involving introspection, like perspective taking, compared to bottom-up processes like Perspective Getting. Perspective taking is a top-down cognitive process involving introspection that requires an individual to rely on their own mental state to infer the mental states of others. It is difficult for a person to have an accurate sense of how much their own perspective effects their inferences and general understanding of another's perspective. Researchers claim this is likely one of the reasons people tend to overestimate top-down approaches to understanding others, like perspective taking, and underestimate bottom-up approaches like Perspective Getting. People's general underestimation of Perspective Getting implies people are more inclined to use strategies that do not necessarily promote accurate interpersonal understanding, which can negatively impact the way people interact with each other as well as the outcomes of those interactions. Social psychologists therefore find it important to study and communicate findings on Perspective Getting as an approach to accurately understand the psychological experiences of others.
- Theory of mind
- Empathic accuracy
- Top-down vs Bottom-up processes (neuroscience and psychology section)
- Attitude (social psychology definition)
- Introspection (psychology section)
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