Perspective Taking, Adaptation, and Coordination

Amy S Ebesu Hubbard. 21st Century Communication: A Reference Handbook. Editor: William F Eadie. Sage Publication. 2009.

Perspective taking is the sine qua non of communication. Implicitly and explicitly, communicators make assumptions and have expectations about others’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, and they act on those assumptions and expectations. “Think about it from her point of view.” “How would you feel if you were in his shoes?” “The world does not revolve around only you.” These exhortations proclaim the value of perspective taking. By considering another’s vantage point, placing oneself in another’s position, and acknowledging that there are other people in the world, with their own viewpoints, perspective taking can allow people to anticipate better the behaviors and reactions of others. In so doing, perspective taking can facilitate adaptation and coordination of interactions with others.

What is particularly interesting to communication scholars is how, when, and why the processes of perspective taking, adaptation, and coordination occur. In this chapter, the theoretical conceptualizations of perspective taking, adaptation, and coordination will be examined along with a discussion of the common methods used to study these fundamental processes. This will be followed by an appraisal of how these concepts have been and can be applied in various contexts, along with some of the key questions that are yet to be fully answered in these related areas of study.

Theoretical Conceptualizations

Perspective Taking

Although there is debate among developmental scholars about when children begin to be able to engage in perspective taking and what triggers this development (e.g., maturation processes and/or encounters with moral dilemmas), there is agreement that most adults do engage in perspective taking and know that other people can have different viewpoints from their own. Epley, Morewedge, and Keysar (2004) further argued that not only are adults less egocentric, but what allows adults to engage in perspective taking, as compared with children, is that adults can also correct for those egocentric tendencies.

Still, regardless of how this comes about, the concept of perspective taking remains an axiomatic element in communication. Researchers have typically defined perspective taking as the act of intellectually adopting the outlook or viewpoint of another person. Scholars have sometimes referred to this as a type of role taking and have further distinguished between affective and cognitive role taking. Thus, perspective taking or imaginatively taking another’s perspective into account may entail considering both another person’s feelings and thoughts.

Perspective taking also has been conceptualized as a form of empathy. In theoretical models of empathy, perspective taking is generally viewed in one of three ways. The first treats perspective taking as synonymous with empathy. The second considers perspective taking as one of several empathy dimensions or elements that have a separate influence on behavior (Davis & Oathout, 1987). Although the exact number of elements composing a multidimensional view of empathy (Davis, 1980, 1983; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987) is arguable, the most common ones, in addition to perspective taking, are emotion matching, empathic concern, personal distress, and fantasy. Briefly, emotion matching is feeling the same or very similar emotions to that of another person. For example, two people might both report that they are feeling happy. Empathic concern is feeling compassion and sympathy toward another person. People who show empathic concern do not feel the same emotion as another person (as with emotion matching) but have an emotional response to the situation of another person. This is other-focused. For instance, if a friend is feeling hurt because of a relationship breakup, you might feel sympathy for your friend. Personal distress is feeling anxiety, worry, and uneasiness in response to the situation of another person. This is self-focused. For example, if a classmate did poorly on an examination and is very upset about it, you might start to feel anxious and worried about your own grades. Fantasy is the tendency to identify with and become “involved” with fictional characters. For instance, you might respond to the plight of your favorite reality television star as if this was a real person in your life.

The third theoretical view of perspective taking treats perspective taking as a necessary antecedent, but not sufficient condition, to other empathy dimensions (Stiff, Dillard, Somera, Kim, & Sleight, 1988). This two-stage model places the cognitive forms of empathy (e.g., perspective taking) ahead of the affective forms of empathy (e.g., empathic concern). For example, after people are attentive to the views of another person, they feel compassion toward that person.

Adaptation and Coordination

The communication literature is full of a variety of terms that refer to various aspects of adaptation and coordination. Sometimes, the general area of study is referred to as accommodation or mutual adaptation. However, the multitude of terms can be confusing. In an attempt to provide a unifying rubric on these processes and to avoid confusion with specific theories and approaches (e.g., communication accommodation theory vs. accommodation processes) and methodological difficulties, Burgoon, Stern, and Dillman (1995) advocated the use of the term adaptation, or, more precisely, interpersonal adaptation, to refer to this literature. Similarly, taking a broader view of this phenomenon, Bernieri and Rosenthal (1991) referred to this literature as interpersonal coordination or “the degree to which the behaviors in an interaction are nonrandom, patterned, or synchronized in both timing and form” (pp. 402–403). Thus, in this chapter, adaptation and coordination are considered synonymous with each other.

The typical patterns of adaptation and coordination in this area of study are often labeled as matching, complementarity, reciprocity, compensation, convergence, divergence, synchrony, and dissynchrony. Behavioral matching is exhibited when interactants have identical behaviors. For example, both interactants might display the same posture. The term, mirroring, is sometimes used when the identical behaviors are mirror images, or show reflection symmetry. They are essentially the same behavior, but in opposite directions. For instance, one person could cross his or her left leg over the right leg and the other person could cross his or her right leg over the left leg. Complementarity is exhibiting different or dissimilar behaviors.

Reciprocity refers to adjusting to the communication function of another’s behavior with behaviors that serve a similar communication function. If someone is showing anger by growling, then the other interactant could reciprocate by showing anger by glaring. Compensation, then, is responding to the communicative function of another’s behavior, but with an analogous behavior that fulfills the communicative function in the opposite direction. For example, instead of reciprocating with a glare, a person could compensate by showing pleasure through smiling.

Convergence is when one person moves toward a more similar pattern to that of another person. They become increasingly similar. Divergence is becoming increasingly dissimilar. For instance, if a person is behaving in a dominant manner, then another person could converge on that pattern by becoming more dominant over time as well or diverge by becoming less dominant over time.

Synchrony is the overall quality of interaction partners having the appearance of unity rather than separation or independence when communicating with each other. That is, the interactants’ behaviors are entrained to one another, with behaviors matching simultaneously or sequentially in an overall pattern. Synchrony, then, includes the qualities of interaction rhythm or tempo, simultaneous behavior or behavior changes that occur at the same time between interactants, and smooth meshing of behaviors. In a sense, synchrony is rhythmic reciprocity. Dissynchrony, on the other hand, is when the behavioral patterns of both inter-actants are out-of-sync or appear as if the interactants are operating autonomously from each other.

There have been a profuse number of theories offered to predict these various adaptation and coordination patterns. In an effort to provide more coherence to this literature, Burgoon and colleagues (1995) applied a communication-oriented organizational framework to the wide array of adaptation and coordination theories. They hierarchically arranged the theories along a dimension from automatic, nonarbitrary, or reactive to communicative, symbolic, or intentional and based their distinctions on the domain of focus, ranging from individual to group to dyad. That is, there are biological approaches, arousal and affect approaches, social norm approaches, and communication and cognition approaches, respectively.

The biological models are grounded in innate, biological, and universal needs for survival, which often include concerns about safety, comfort, and connection with others, as well as building a foundation for more complex communication. Typically, the theorizing in this area examined interactional synchrony and dissynchrony, particularly between adults and children (e.g., when mother and infant vocalizations coordinate), and investigated instinctual forms of motor mimicry that occur when a person behav-iorally responds to the situation of another when the situation is not actually happening to the person (e.g., when you observe someone about to be hit over the head and you duck your head) and mirroring behavior (e.g., Bernieri, Reznick, & Rosenthal, 1988; Condon & Sander, 1974; LaFrance, 1982; Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). One notable exception is Bavelas, Black, Chovil, Lemery, and Mullett’s (1988) work on motor mimicry. In this case, Bavelas and her colleagues argued that motor mimicry, in the form of mirroring another person’s behavior, goes beyond a biological basis and has a more communicative function of signalling similarity and rapport.

Arousal and affect models build on the foundations of biological needs and highlight the psychological needs of the individual. Some of the common theories in this area are affiliative conflict theory (a.k.a., equilibrium theory), arousal-labeling theory, discrepancy-arousal theory, and dialectical theory. For example, affiliative conflict theory is predicated on the idea that people try to balance their approach and avoidance needs to maintain psychological comfort in an interaction. When the equilibrium is disturbed, affiliative conflict theorists predict that behavioral changes will occur, primarily in the form of compensation (Argyle & Dean, 1965). For instance, if someone takes a step closer to you, you will step back to restore the interaction equilibrium.

Arousal-labeling theory explains both patterns of reciprocity and compensation (Patterson, 1976). From this theoretical standpoint, changes in the intimacy level in an interaction lead to arousal. When the arousal exceeds a certain threshold, that arousal is valenced positively or negatively and labeled as such by individuals. If the arousal is considered to be positive, then reciprocity is predicted. If the arousal is considered to be negative, then compensation is predicted. Continuing with the previous example, if someone steps close enough to you for the behavior to create sufficient arousal and you consider that arousal positive, then you will step forward. If you consider the arousal negative, then you will step back. Discrepancy arousal theorists (Cappella & Greene, 1982) downplay the cognitive emphasis that is present in arousal-labeling theory and posit a quicker process that generates reciprocity and compensation. That is, they theorize that people’s behavior can be discrepant with their expectations and that discrepancies, within a certain acceptable range, generate moderate arousal and are associated with positive affect. Discrepancies, outside a certain acceptable range, generate large arousal and are associated with negative affect.

Proponents of discrepancy-arousal theory generally predict that when two interactants want to approach each other, the discrepancy-arousal-affect chain will lead to reciprocity and when one interactant wants to approach and the other wants to avoid, then the discrepancy-arousal-affect chain will lead to compensation. Dialectical approaches also focus on psychological needs. However, according to dialectical theorists, people have competing and complementary needs that create dialectical tensions in relationships (Altman, Vinsel, & Brown, 1981; Baxter & Montgomery, 1997). To manage these tensions, people sometimes oscillate, fluctuate, or cycle between different needs. This leads to dyadic adaptation and coordination patterns of matching, complementarity, reciprocity, and compensation.

Rather than focusing closely on biological and psychological needs, social norm models emphasize the influence of social and cultural norms. The norms of reciprocity, social exchange, dyadic effect, Gottman’s negative affect reciprocity, and communication accommodation are examples of theories in this area. For instance, the norm of reciprocity, as the name implies, predicts reciprocal patterns.

According to Gouldner (1960), reciprocity is a moral obligation to respond in kind through reciprocal patterns of people helping each other and avoiding injuring each other. Social exchange theorists similarly predict reciprocity and view the exchange of resources between people as fundamental to societal functioning. In communication research, social exchange principles are theorized to allow for exchanges of roughly equivalent resources and variable intervals of time when people can reciprocate behavior (Roloff, 1987). For example, if a friend helps you move into your dorm room, you might help your friend move when he or she finds a new place to live or you might help your friend wash his or her car. Additionally, reciprocity of self-disclosures or personal information about the self, what Jourard (1959) refers to as the dyadic effect, was originally theorized to help develop personal relationships. For example, you tell your date your most embarrassing moment, and your date tells you the same. Analogously, Gottman’s (1979) research on marital couples demonstrated that reciprocity of negative affect deteriorated personal relationships. For instance, a husband snipes at his wife, and the wife snaps back at her husband. Another theory that emphasizes norms is communication accommodation theory, originally known as speech accommodation theory (Giles, Coupland, & Coupland, 1991).

Generally, communication accommodation theorists focus on the patterns of convergence and divergence of communication behaviors, particularly as they relate to people’s goals for social approval, communication efficiency, and identity. Depending on whether interactants are mutually accommodating or only one interactant is accommodating, the patterns of reciprocity and compensation are also applicable. For instance, at a high school reunion, you see your good buddy from history class and your vocal patterns become more similar to each other. When you run into a disliked classmate from high school, your vocal pattern becomes more different from that classmate’s.

While still retaining a basis in biological, psychological, and sociological orientations, communication and cognition models place more emphasis on the multiple functions of communication (e.g., message production and processing, relational management, social influence and control, identity and impression formation and management, and conversation management) and the meanings and interpretations of communicative behavior. Theories in this area include the sequential-functional model, expectancy violations theory, cognitive-valence theory, and interaction adaptation theory.

Patterson’s (1983) sequential-functional model provides a broad framework for predicting reciprocity and compensation. According to Patterson, there are genetic and environmental determinants; personal, situational, and relationship antecedents; and preinteraction mediators, such as behavioral predispositions, arousal, and cognitive-affective expectancies, that influence interaction between people. When people interact, these factors and emergent features of the interaction are theorized to guide behavior. During an interaction, the interactants interpret the meaning and functions of each other’s involvement level. This creates a change in arousal. When the arousal change is minimal, stable exchange and reciprocity are expected. When the arousal change is large, unstable exchange and compensation are expected.

Burgoon’s (1978; Burgoon & Le Poire, 1993) expectancy violations theory is based on the idea that people have communication expectancies of others. During interactions, if these expectancies are violated, they are arousing and refocus attention to the features of the communication, the nature of the relationship between the interactants, and the nature and meaning of the violation. Communicative behavior that confirms expectancies has a valence ranging from positive to negative, and the interactant who violates expectancies has a communication reward valence ranging from positive to negative. Expectancy violation theorists generally predict that when communicative behaviors that confirm or violate expectancies have a positive valence and the communicator reward valence is positive, reciprocity results. When communicative behaviors that confirm or violate expectancies have a positive valence and the communicator reward valence is negative, reciprocity or compensation can result. When communicative behaviors that confirm or violate expectancies have a negative valence and the communicator reward valence is positive, compensation results. When communicative behaviors that confirm or violate expectancies have a negative valence and the communicator reward valence is negative, compensation results.

Andersen’s (1999) cognitive-valence theory describes the communicative process of intimacy exchange between people, specifically increases in intimacy. This change in intimacy is predicted to generate varying degrees of arousal. Proponents of this theory predict that adaptation occurs at moderate and large increases in arousal. For a moderate increase in arousal, an interactant’s increase in intimacy behavior has a valence based on six types of cognitive schemata (i.e., cultural, self, interpersonal, relational, situational, and state schemata). If each of the six types of cognitive schemata has a positive valence, the overall valence is positive and reciprocity, in the form of an increase in intimacy behavior, is predicted. If any one of the six types of cognitive schemata has a negative valence, the overall valence is negative and compensation, in the form of a decrease in intimacy behavior, is predicted. For a large increase in arousal, compensation is predicted.

Finally, Burgoon and colleagues’ (1995) interaction adaptation theory provides a comprehensive explanatory calculus for examining adaptation and coordination patterns in interaction. She parsimoniously integrated and built on past theories in this area. In so doing, interaction adaptation theory is based on five key concepts: required factors, expected factors, desired factors, interaction position, and actual behavior. When interacting with another person, interaction adaptation theorists posit that required, expected, and desired elements are arranged hierarchically and are interdependent. The most fundamental are required factors that are grounded in biological drives and basic human needs. Then, there are expected factors, which are based in social norms and cultural norms. Finally, there are desired factors that are personal and idiosyncratic to individuals’ preferences and goals. People consider all three factors and develop an interaction position. This interaction position is basically a behavioral interaction pattern in a situation that is derived from the combination of what is required, expected, and desired by an individual. This individual could refer to the self or the partner. Actual behavior is a partner’s enacted behavior. Both interaction positions and actual behaviors are valenced from positive to negative. Furthermore, people are anticipated to move toward more positively valenced behaviors, whether it is toward a more positively valenced interaction position or a more positively valenced actual behavior. Thus, the theory predicts that when interaction position and actual behavior are not discrepant, there is matching. When the interaction position is more positively valenced than the actual behavior, divergence, compensation, and maintenance (enacting the same behavior) are predicted. When the actual behavior is more positively valenced than the interaction position, convergence, matching, and reciprocity are predicted.


Operationalizing Perspective Taking

Researchers generally believe that perspective taking is dispositional, when people have overall tendencies to spontaneously think about the other person’s perspective, and situational, where people can be induced to think about another person’s perspective. When studying perspective taking then, researchers often consider how to measure and manipulate perspective taking.

Perspective taking is typically measured either by asking people to report on their own perspective-taking skills in a survey or by inferring perspective-taking ability after examining how people respond to a variety of scenarios, vignettes, audio recordings, or role play instructions. Perspective taking is commonly manipulated through a set of instructions. The instructions ask people to imagine themselves or other people in a specified situation and imagine how they would think and feel if they were in another person’s place and/or how another person is thinking and feeling.

Operationalizing Adaptation and Coordination

Burgoon and colleagues’ (1995) review of adaptation patterns offers a useful set of criteria for distinguishing various forms of adaptation and coordination from each other and discusses the various ways these patterns can be and have been operationalized. To determine if and which forms of adaptation and coordination are occurring in interactions, Burgoon et al. indicated that the methods employed to study these phenomena must reasonably demonstrate or assess whether behavior was directed toward or was contingent on another person, whether there was a change in behavior, whether the influence was effected by one or more parties, whether the change was ordered or sequential, and whether behavior was strategic, as well as the direction and degree of the change and behaviors that are functionally equivalent.

Some methods that have been used to assess adaptation and coordination include directly asking people about their intentions in questionnaires, in diaries, or in video-cued recall sessions for various time intervals. This strategy provides information about whether people believe that their behavior was directed toward another person and whether their response was contingent on another.

Another method was to manipulate people’s behavior by having them systematically change their behavior and observe any resulting changes in another person’s behavior. This will help determine directionality, contingency, sequencing, and whether behavior change was lagged.

Researchers have also measured the magnitude and direction of behavioral change by comparing behavior with a baseline or control. The control could be a person’s own behavior, in a within-individual or within-dyad design. Or the control could be a separate group, in a between-dyads design. In related fashion, social normative standards have been used as a baseline to infer behavioral change. In this case, an a priori list of behaviors that are consensually recognized as directed toward others is compared with the observed behavior.

Furthermore, adaptation and coordination can be inferred by using a variety of statistical techniques. For example, directionality and contingency can be approximated by using a social relations analysis to assess actor, partner, and relationship effects and statistically partitioning the behavioral contribution of each effect or statistically examining conditional probabilities. Behavior change has been assessed using longitudinal designs with time as a factor in the statistical analyses. Sequencing and contingency have been surmised by comparing baseline correlations with correlations in different experimental conditions and using statistical techniques such as lag sequential analysis.

Burgoon and colleagues (1995) also noted that assessing directionality of change, magnitude of change, and functionally equivalent behaviors requires additional methodological considerations. For example, researchers might theoretically and empirically examine the range of changes and standard deviations. They might also need to use multiple behaviors, both verbal and nonverbal, that are substitutable to each other and/or look at functionally equivalent molar measures. They could look at behaviors, behavioral change, and interpretation of those changes using observer and participant perspectives. Moreover, investigators of behavioral adaptation and coordination would need to make a judgment about the degree to which the measures should be microscopic or macroscopic.


Understanding and engaging in perspective taking and the resultant adaptation and coordination are useful for mundane to critical communication events. These concepts and the theories about them are helpful both in the everyday type of communication with other people as well as during challenging or difficult exchanges with people. For example, when people engage in competitive and cooperative activities, consideration of how others will respond helps people to better adapt and coordinate actions. On a basketball team, for instance, a player might assist a teammate for an alley-oop to a slam-dunk. This not only requires precise passing and dunking skills, but it also requires teamwork and pinpoint timing. Players or audience members might also try to “psych out” the other team or taunt them during a game by choosing words or phrases that they believe will upset the other team or help them lose focus.

Perspective taking, adaptation, and coordination are equally applicable in a variety of other situations. People who are in the customer service field often need to make assessments of what other people want and then adjust to those desires. People who handle client complaints or irate clients can fruitfully use the ideas of perspective taking, adaptation, and coordination in deciding whether to strongly and forcefully state a position, with the hope that the client will back down, or calmly state a position, with the hope that the client will respond in kind.

When persuading someone, a common tenet of effective persuasion is the use of two-sided arguments. This means that persuaders must consider the arguments that are consistent with their position and refute counterarguments by others. If a teenager wants to stay out past a curfew, then arguing for why he or she should be able to stay out later is only part of the process. The teenager should also consider what the parents’ reasons are for wanting the teenager to come home on time. The teenager should refute those reasons as well as consider how to nonverbally present the information. Similarly, if an employee wants to ask the boss for a raise, the employee should consider the boss’s viewpoint and state the employee’s own case in a confident manner (in the hope that the boss will accept it) or in a submissive manner to show deference.

In public speaking, audience analysis is stressed. This means that information must be considered in light of the attributes of the audience and the audience’s prior knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and values, orbasically, the perspective of the audience should betaken into account when planning a presentation. Additionally, after doing audience analysis, the public speaker must adapt his or her presentation to the information from that analysis. For example, if the audience is expected to be disinterested, then the speaker might be even more animated and enthusiastic, with the idea that the audience response will converge on the speaker’s pattern, and the speaker might consider which factors will facilitate convergence.

In interpersonal interactions, perspective taking, adaptation, and coordination are valuable concepts that can be applied. For instance, if a friend has a problem, perhaps there was a death in the family; thinking about the situation from the friend’s perspective would be helpful. If the friend is not talking about the problem, then a person could remain silent and hope that the friend will fill the void by compensating for the silence with talk, or the person could begin talking with the expectation that the friend might reciprocate the behavior. If a person is on a date with someone who is very attractive, the person might consider how receptive this attractive other would be to flirting. The person might think about whether to initiate flirting behaviors in the hope that the behavior will be matched or wait for the other person to initiate interest.

As is evident from this diverse array of examples, many communication activities can be analyzed through the ideas of perspective taking, adaptation, and coordination. What is also particularly clear is that adaptation and coordination often begin with perspective taking. Thus, the rest of this chapter will be devoted primarily to a discussion of perspective taking. The research on perspective taking indicates that perspective taking plays an important role in exhibiting communication competence, engaging in prosocial behaviors, and managing problematic events.

Exhibiting Communication Competence

Many have argued and found evidence to support the fact that perspective taking is significantly related to overall social skills, such as the ability to verbally and nonverbally encode, decode, and regulate messages and communication competence, or communicating effectively and appropriately (Redmon, 1989; Riggio, Tucker, & Coffaro, 1989). Whenever people communicate with each other, perspective taking is applied as people take the other person’s knowledge into account (Fussell & Krauss, 1992). Perspective taking is relevant when people adapt to diverse audiences, choose how to address someone, decide on the formality or informality of their language choices, engage in deception and deception detection, manage impressions, and regulate the flow and structure of their conversations. For example, Grice’s (1975) conversational maxim approach hinges on perspective taking. That is, according to Grice, when people communicate with each other, they adhere to the cooperative principle by making appropriate inferences about the communicator’s intentions when comprehending and responding to messages. This is how understanding indirect messages is possible. If someone says, “Can I ask you a question?” most will make sense of this question by thinking about the perspective of the person who said it and recognize that this question is a preamble to a question that is going to be asked subsequently and is not a signal of communicative incompetence (or a failure to recognize the apparent contradiction in that the person who asked to ask a question has already asked the question).

Engaging in Prosocial Behaviors

Research on perspective taking indicates that perspective taking directly or indirectly facilitates a variety of prosocial behaviors, such as being more fair and moral in actions; helping others; giving more resources to a disad-vantaged other, even to the detriment of the collective good; forgiving others; and showing compassion toward others (e.g., Batson, 1987; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987). For instance, Batson and colleagues (2003) found that imagining the other person’s position stimulated moral action and when people imagined the self in the other’s position, they behaved more fairly toward the other person if that other person was relatively disadvantaged. Hodgson and Wertheim (2007) found that in situations when someone had committed a transgression or a hurtful action against another, those people who were better able to manage and regulate their emotions were associated with more dispositional perspective taking, and dispositional perspective taking was associated with an increase in instances of forgiveness of the transgressor or instigator of the hurt. Clearly, the relationship between perspective taking and prosocial behaviors has applications to persuasion. Whenever people are interested in convincing others to engage in prosocial types of behaviors, be it personally or through a media campaign, accounting for perspective taking might increase the success of the persuasive attempt.

Managing Problematic Events in Relationships

Research has also linked dispositional perspective taking with overall relationship satisfaction, happiness, and adjustment. The reason for this may be due to the effect of perspective taking on the management of problematic events, such as being narrow minded, engaging in destructive forms of conflict, showing anger, and displaying aggressiveness in relationships.

For example, people who can take another person’s perspective are more open-minded and flexible. They are less likely to stereotype other people, less likely to be prejudiced, less likely to commit attributional errors, and more likely to avoid dispositional attributions regarding others’ behaviors (e.g., Galinsky, Ku, & Wang, 2005). Richardson, Hammock, Smith, Gardner, and Signo (1994) examined people’s self reports of their conflict responses with friends and siblings. They found that dispositional perspective taking was positively associated with problem-solving responses and calm discussions without yelling.

Perspective taking was also negatively associated with aggression and aggressive tendencies, such as irritability, hitting, pushing, and sulking. When perspective taking was manipulated, Richardson and colleagues (1994) found that participants behaved less aggressively (set their partners to receive a lower level of electric shocks) at the start of the experiment, when they had not actually received shocks themselves. Additionally, they found that when the partners of the female participants engaged in offensive and insulting name-calling, those females who were high in dispositional perspective taking did not reciprocate the behavior, as compared with females who were low in dis-positional perspective taking. When the partners of the male participants used relatively mild name calling, the males who were high in perspective taking reciprocated the less offensive name calling, as compared with the males who were low in perspective taking. Mohr, Howells, Gerace, Day, and Wharton (2007) also found that dispositional perspective taking was associated with lesser anger arousal and lesser inclination to express anger when provoked in interpersonal situations

Future Directions

Given the importance of this area of study, future research should continue to expand knowledge of these processes in communication. Some of the vital areas of focus that future investigations can concentrate on include examining when perspective taking can be used for darker purposes; how perspective taking can be triggered or activated in real life; and what the differences in perspective taking are between groups, partners, and judgments, or how types of groups, partners, and judgments can be compared.

Darker Side of Perspective Taking

Imagine an argument between a couple that ends with the statement “I knew you were going to say that.” This statement is provocative to communication scholars because it reveals several issues about perspective taking and its role in communication that deserve additional research attention. In the hypothetical scenario between the couple, perspective taking is used as a justification for actions. The literature on perspective taking, however, portrays a more optimistic view of perspective taking. That is, perspective taking is valuable and good, and we can better adapt to others’ communication and coordinate our behaviors with increased perspective taking. Thus, future studies should also focus on the darker side of perspective taking. For example, research could examine how people might deliberately thwart another person’s behavior, how people can use an assessment of the other person’s perspective as a justification for inaction because the outcomes of the interaction were already anticipated, and how people might exploit each other’s sensitive spots.

Future research could study the limits to perspective taking as well. Investigations could examine when perspective taking is applied and when it is withheld, perhaps even resisted. For instance, Frantz and Seburn (2003) examined argumentativeness and perspective taking and found that underlying motivations and preferences affected how people applied perspective taking. They found that when highly argumentative people had a preference for a particular viewpoint in a conflict situation, those individuals were less likely to see both sides of the argument than when they did not have a preference.

Further work could also focus on the negative consequences associated with perspective taking. Galinsky and colleagues (2005) reported that when people see more of themselves in others and more of others in themselves, they take on the attributes of others, both positive and negative. Research could investigate if adopting the perspective of an outgroup member leads to conflict with an ingroup member. For example, consider the case of a high school with a popular group and a socially isolated teenager. If a member of the popular group adopts the perspective of the teenager, members of the popular group might be upset with the perspective-taking popular group member. Future research could examine these dynamics.

Perspective-Taking Triggers

Additionally, if perspective taking is advantageous and can be situationally induced, then future work should investigate what triggers perspective taking. The content and form of a message to encourage perspective taking in the real world need to be investigated empirically. Research might also focus on other strategies for enabling people to think about others’ viewpoints. Some worthwhile starting points include examining whether familiarity with a person, self-disclosure, and prior experience with a need might make people more inclined to take another person’s perspective into account.

Analogously, research could investigate the ways in which perspective taking might be hindered or inhibited. Krcmar and Vieira (2005) argued, in their study of elementary-school-age children’s television viewing of fantasy violence, that television fantasy violence portrays only one predominant perspective (that of the perpetrator of the violent act), and this can hinder perspective taking. They found support that increases in viewing exposure to fantasy violence were related to decreases in perspective taking and decreases in perspective taking were related to decreases in moral reasoning (especially about a justified violent act).

Comparisons in Perspective Taking

The role of culture in perspective taking might be an important avenue for future work. Perspective taking might not be viewed similarly across cultures. Additionally, future research might investigate how people from collectivistic cultures think about perspective taking as compared with people from individualistic cultures. Initial evidence showed that Chinese people, with an interdependent self-construal, used perspective taking to focus more on others’ knowledge and needs during a communication game than did Americans, with an independent self-construal (Wu & Keysar, 2007). If perspective taking is a part of overall social skills, then the role of perspective taking in reducing lack of coordination and awkwardness in intercultural communication interactions could also be examined.

Further research on perspective taking could also compare the effects of thinking about another’s perspective when the other is a person or some other animate object. Servillano, Aragonés, and Schultz (2007) provided tentative evidence that concern for nonhuman animals could be induced through the use of perspective taking. Additional work could compare unidirectional and mutual perspective taking. Much of the research has been concentrated on how one person views another person. However, research has neglected to examine the dynamics involved when two people are adopting the perspectives of each other in their communication. Finally, further research could focus on whether accuracy in perspective taking is important and to what degree. Much of the current research on perspective taking did not assess the congruency between the perceptions of one person and the perceptions of another. Even so, Ickes’s (1997) work on empathic accuracy draws further attention to the need to study the degree of congruency between people’s perspectives, what facilitates that con-gruency, whether congruency is necessary for the various prosocial findings to remain robust, and when people are motivated to be inaccurate.


In this chapter, a variety of literatures were consulted to provide a sampling of the many theories about and research methods used to examine perspective taking, adaptation, and coordination. Although these three processes are significant aspects of communication, for the most part, perspective taking has remained an important but not explicitly identified component in adaptation and coordination theories. By discussing these processes together, the reader can see how they are intimately and inextricably tied together and the multiple functions and applications they have. People live in a world of diverging and converging perspectives. In communication, a consistent failure to take into account others’ perspectives and adapt and coordinate behaviors dooms people to a life buffered and isolated from others. Recognition, appreciation, and utilization of these critical processes in communication does not guarantee success in life, but it does mean that life will be enriched by complexity, offer unique challenges, and be ever changing.