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The Social Perspective Taking Process: Strategies and Sources of Evidence in Taking Another’s Perspective


by Hunter Gehlbach & Maureen E. Brinkworth — 2012

Background/Context: Research indicates that social perspective taking—the capacity to discern the thoughts and feelings of others—plays a role in many important outcomes in schools. Despite the potential benefits for students and educators, little is known about social perspective taking (SPT) as a process.

Purpose/Research Question: If educational researchers are ultimately to design interventions to help improve the perspective-taking capacities of those in schools, they need to fully understand the underlying process, that is, how social perspective taking actually happens. Particularly important is the need to understand what strategies individuals use and what sources of evidence they draw from when they take the perspective of others.

Participants: To investigate this question, a sample of 18 adults from an array of different professions (who were nominated as adept perspective takers) and 13 high school students (who were nominated as struggling with social perspective taking) participated in the study.

Research Design: Participants completed in-depth interviews and a “think-aloud” protocol as part of this mixed-method exploratory study. The interviews and think-alouds were coded for the type of social perspective taking that strategy participants employed and for the sources of evidence they relied on, respectively.

Findings: Results indicated that participants relied on 12 different types of SPT strategies and drew from seven different sources of evidence when discerning others’ thoughts and feelings.

Conclusions/Recommendations: These findings provide foundational knowledge that lays groundwork for ultimately developing approaches to teach social perspective taking. At a practical level, these findings provide options for students and educators to experiment with as they attempt to take the perspective of one another.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 1, 2012, p. 1-29
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16215, Date Accessed: 10/30/2014 6:53:15 PM

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About the Author
  • Hunter Gehlbach
    Harvard University
    E-mail Author
    HUNTER GEHLBACH is an assistant professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. His primary interests lie in using social psychological principles and research to improve schools. He also maintains an active research interest in how to most effectively design questionnaires. Recent publications include “Motivated Thinkers and the Mistakes They Make” in Advances in Motivation and Achievement: Social Psychological Perspectives (with Maureen Brinkworth) and an article in Educational Psychology Review entitled “The Social Side of School: Why Teachers Need Social Psychology.”
  • Maureen Brinkworth
    Harvard University
    MAUREEN BRINKWORTH is a doctoral candidate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. She is interested in how social perspective taking impacts different aspects of secondary classrooms—particularly the relationships between teachers and students. Her recent work includes “Motivated Thinkers and the Mistakes They Make” in Advances in Motivation and Achievement: Social Psychological Perspectives (with Hunter Gehlbach).
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