Which circumstances make us better perspective-takers?

Examples from the third-person visual perspective-taking task (see full caption, below)

Recent PhD graduate from the School of Psychology Brad Mattan is the lead author on two new papers which explore the role that age and empathy play in visual perspective taking. 

Despite previous reports showing that perspective-taking ability declines with advanced age, Brad's paper on ageing, published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, suggests that this decline is not as robust when older adults (60 years and older) adopt perspectives that are particularly relevant to the self.  

In a second paper, published in Cognitive Neuroscience, Brad and his colleagues examined whether empathy may be related to visual perspective-taking ability.  Defining empathy as a tendency to simulate the thoughts and feelings of others without confusing them with one’s own thoughts and emotional state, they predicted that highly empathic individuals would perform better at visual perspective taking. Indeed, results showed that empathic individuals were better able to choose between competing visual perspectives, especially when focusing on a perspective that was relevant to the self. 

Both recently published papers resulted from the work of Brad and his PhD supervisors, Dr Kimberly Quinn and Dr Pia Rotshtein in collaboration with recent graduate Stephanie Acaster and current third-year student Rebecca Jennings. Both papers build on Brad’s previously published PhD work on preferences for self-related visual perspectives. 

Having recently completed his PhD (January, 2016), Brad is currently working as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago with Dr Jennifer Kubota and Dr Jasmin Cloutier, where his work focuses on the effects of social status on social cognitive abilities, including visual perspective taking.

 


Figure caption: (adapted from Mattan, Rotshtein, & Quinn, 2016). Examples from the third-person visual perspective-taking task.  Color assignment for the self-associated and other-associated avatars was varied across participants.  Here, we refer to the blue avatar (on the right) as the Self avatar.  For congruent trials (1a), the Self and Other avatars viewed the central area of the room and therefore saw the same number of dots on the far wall.  For incongruent trials (1b), one or both avatars gazed toward one of the peripheral sections of the room so that each avatar viewed a different section of the room and a different number of dots.  These trials are more difficult as the two perspectives are conflicting.  In this example, the Self avatar is oriented toward the periphery.  For each image, participants had to indicate how many dots were visible to a prompted avatar (e.g., Self avatar or Other avatar) as quickly and accurately as possible.