Selfperspective As The Default Mode

The ability to take the psychological perspective of the other is considered an indispensable element in the fully developed mature theory of mind. Developmental research also indicates that perspective-taking ability develops gradually. In the affective domain, it is around 18 months that children demonstrate an emerging awareness of the subjectivity of other people's emotions. By that age, infants seem to understand, for instance, that they should give an experimenter a piece of food that the experimenter reacts to with apparent happiness (e.g., broccoli) rather than one toward which the experimenter acts disgusted (e.g., crackers), even when they themselves prefer the latter food; in contrast, 14-month-olds do not show this understanding (Repacholi & Gopnik, 1997). This finding appears to be the first empirical evidence that infants of this age have at least some limited ability to reason non-egocentrically about people's desires (Flavell, 1999). However, the mere fact that peo ple have the ability to distinguish between their own perspective and the perspective of others does not mean that adults reliably and spontaneously use this ability when reasoning about them (Barr & Keysar, Chapter 17, this volume). Indeed, even adults frequently make a less sharp distinction between what they know, or believe they know, and what they assume others do. An elegant series of experiments conducted by Keysar, Lin, and Barr (2003) demonstrated that adult subjects show a tendency to infer that others have the same knowledge (and beliefs) as they do, even when they are aware that the others have a different point of view.

Several social and developmental psychologists have suggested, and documented through empirical work, that our default mode to reasoning about others is biased toward the self-perspective, and this is a general feature of human cognition (e.g., Nickerson, 1999). For instance, we have the tendency to believe that our actions and appearance are more likely to be noticed, judged, and remembered by others than is actually the case (Gilovich, Kruger, & Medvec, 2002). We are inclined to impute our own knowledge to others and overestimate what they know. Recent research also indicates that people's predictions about the feelings of others who are in a situation that arouses drive states (i.e., motivations caused by bodily needs such as exhaustion, hunger, and thirst) are based largely on their predictions of how they themselves would feel in that situation (see Van Boven & Loewenstein, Chapter 18, this volume).

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