The Grounded Nature of Psychological Perspective-Taking

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Psychological perspective-taking is a powerful social cognition that helps us to understand other people. It creates feelings of closeness and sympathy, motivates us to help others, and is important for positive social relationships. In contrast to the impressive knowledge about its consequences, relatively little is known about how exactly people achieve them. The present paper addresses this question from a grounded cognition perspective, drawing on recent findings on the embodiment of visuospatial perspective-taking. Visuospatial perspective-taking involves a mental transformation of one’s body schema into the physical location of another person. We argue that when people psychologically “put themselves in another person’s shoes,” this simulation of physical proximity happens, too, and is one source of perceived closeness. In five experiments (total N = 1067), participants completed a visuospatial perspective-taking task. During half of the trials, angular disparity between the target person and the participant was high and participants had to adopt the target’s visual perspective (which involves an embodied simulation). During the remaining trials, angular disparity was low and participants could solve the task egocentrically. Taking another’s perspective led participants to adopt the thoughts of the target person more strongly (Experiments 1–3) and increased the perceived similarity of that person to the self (Experiment 4) and participants’ liking of that person (Experiment 5). These effects were independent of task difficulty (Experiment 2), and only present during trials where an embodied transformation happened (i.e., at high angular disparities; Experiment 3). Implications for psychological and visuospatial perspective-taking research and related phenomena are discussed.

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