S2E35 Perspective Taking

Have you ever been to a dinner and then you ask all the guests what happened at dinner? If there were 6 guests, you will get 6 different stories. That is the power of perspective taking. Dr. Pete shares knowledge about how perspective impacts mood and behaviors, while Dr. Rubin drops knowledge about its role in western behavioral science. The psychologists discuss developmental aspects of perspective, the idea of no self in eastern philosophies, and its role in empathy. Tune in, you don't want to miss how your perspective reading this right now will affect whether you listen or not.




Pete: Hey Nikki. So what about some perspective taking and how that affects all of our lives?


Nikki: I think this is really important to talk about. We've mentioned it a lot of times and as you and I were saying, I can't believe we haven't done an episode on this yet?


Pete:  How many times do we say that though?  


Nikki: We say it a lot. 


Pete: That's going to get old. 


Nikki: I think it's a good example of how everything is like interwoven, it's like a pulley system, but, we need to talk about this today because perspective taking is a really essential behavior actually for wellbeing and our relationships.


Pete:  Yes, and especially for relationships, like you said, I guess we'll bring in maybe, some examples of it. So, welcome listeners and today we're going to introduce the behavioral aspects of perspective taking, I don't know actually what the Eastern but I guess, we'll see what arises as we talk about that.  I'm not sure how the east will meet the west in that category. But maybe you'll give us some nuggets of knowledge around that. 


Nikki:  Oh, I don’t know.  I think, maybe of what arise, is why we talk about this lovely partnership between behaviorism and Eastern spirituality, because perspective taking is a behavior, right? It's a covert behavior though that is something that's involved in a lot of the practices in Buddhism, for example. maybe that's not the language that's used, but I'm sure you'll have lots to say.


Pete:  It's also an annoying word to type, but for anyone out there who is not a strong typist like myself. Perspective is a particular attitude toward, or way of regarding something. It's a point of view. So the way we think about it today, maybe I'll ask you Nikki, how you define it with clients.  But is looking at how our world view that's the way that I formulate it.  It’s like, perspective is the way in which you see the world and there's no one right way to see the world yet we all see the world from a different perspective. 


Nikki:  Yes, Absolutely. Maybe I'll add another way to say it's a vantage point, right.  It's a vantage point. When I'm talking about it in therapy, I of course, just as I said a moment ago, I explained it as a behavior that we can cultivate and learn to do. And it's a covert behavior no one can see you perspective take, it's happening inside your body, and that’s the simplest way to put it. I'll say it's like putting yourself in someone else's shoes. Like that's what you're doing.


Pete:  Well, so then now I'm thinking, as you're saying, what's the difference then? So in some way perspective is also empathy. 


Nikki:  You were literally reading my mind.  


Pete: I can’t.


Pete:  Guys, our producers did not do this. 


Nikki:  It's the magic of psychic communication or telepathy. So yes, it's required for empathy, I think right. I would say empathy is also about feeling what somebody else is feeling as if it's happening to you. And perspective taking is the behavioral component of putting yourself in someone's vantage point. So that isn't necessarily limited to just feelings it's also incorporates perspective thoughts and sort of like visualizing what someone might be experiencing.


Pete:  It might actually be important to differentiate them because then I would say perspective is more like sympathy then. So just for listeners, when we differentiate sympathy from empathy, empathy is being able to truly feel someone else's emotion, whereas sympathy is being able to observe or acknowledge or validate one's emotions.


Nikki:  Sure. So I think that would be an example, perspective taking is required for both of those practices. 


Pete: Exactly


Nikki: It's just that empathy isn't equivalent to perspective taking, right. It's like perspective taking is necessary to practice empathy It's also necessary to practice sympathy.  I feel like you'll laugh when I say this because I'll use the example that comes to my mind like spatial relations. If you're trying to imagine what Pete is viewing right now, looking at the screen, it requires perspective taking on my part, like putting myself in his shoes, what would he be looking at through his own eyes? And I bring up that example because I think about psych 101, if anybody out there took undergrad psych, or psych major. a lot of times you'll learn about Piaget who was a developmental psychologist. I’m probably definitely going to mess up the stages of development here, but the stage age three to five, is it pre operational stage I think is what it's called?


Pete:  Sensory Motor pre-operational.


Nikki:  Operational. Okay. Pre-operational. My brain is serving me well. Okay.


Pete: So it always does.


Nikki: Well, not a hundred percent here. But the pre-operational stage is one of the things that, a child at that age actually doesn't have a lot of perspective taking capability and so there's this famous study where I have a kid……….


Pete:  You just read, you read my mind. Okay. So I, I just wrote down here developmental. 


Nikki: Oh, you did amazing.


Pete: Egocentrism, go ahead.


Nikki:  Yes, egocentrism. Yes. So basically, what it is,  there's a study where you have a kid sitting in front of, not a diorama, but like a little train set. 


Pete:  You said diorama. I love it when you just said that.


Nikki:  I used to love making dioramas [Crosstalk 5:56] but imagine like a train set or something like that. And, imagine on one side of the train set, there's a lake and on the other side, there's a mountain. And it would be if the kid is sitting on the side with the lake, looking at the mountain and the researcher is sitting on the side of the mountain, you can ask the the child that's ages three to five, what does the researcher see? And what the kid will usually say is their own perspective. They'll say the researcher sees the mountain.  When it's like, the researcher sees the lake. And so, as the brain develops, the brain is able to perspective take and say, the researcher sees the lake instead.  And so, perspective taking it's a behavior, but also it is affiliated with certain stages of development. Like when in a younger, we can't do it. 


Pete:  We don't have it. Right. 


Nikki: Yes. We don't have it.


Pete: So just to clarify, it’s century motor, pre-operational, I said operational, but it's concrete then formal. I thought there was a pre and then operate.


Nikki: Oh, it's not pre-op?


Pete:  No, it is Century motor is essentially from birth to like two years old.


Nikki:  Zero to two, three to five pre-operational.


Pete:  Two to seven for pre-operational, seven to eleven for concrete and then adolescence is formal. And this is why, I think it's important for listeners, If you have kids around these age, if you get annoyed at your child, because they don't see that you're hurting or that you're stressed out.  It's not that they don't care or that they're like apathetic it's because their brain actually can't.


Nikki:  Yeah. I'm so glad that you're saying that, because that is something that I end up talking about with patients quite a bit because I'll use the language, I'll say they cannot perspective take.  Or I'll say even when they're older, like an adolescent, think about it listeners, like when you were younger we think more linearly, and we're more sort of black and white in our thinking. Well, that's the antithesis of perspective taking, right, because you’re focus just on your perspective. And so even though for example, adolescence have the capability to perspective take more than a five year old can. They're still not as skilled at someone who's 30, for example, right [Crosstalk 8:07]. Their brain isn't done growing so, it's both something that is going to get better with age and perspective taking as a behavior can become stronger.  We can cultivate. 


Pete:  Yes. And so, over time, I guess that's part of the thing I've been noticing, more and more, what are you doing to exercise your brain? And the brain has to be exercised. 


Nikki: Yes, totally.


Pete: How else is it going to learn how to do that, and that's not just like getting cut off and trying to imagine that the person that just cut you off is stress while you're driving or having a bad day or just lost someone they love. I think that's like positive, toxicity around some of


Nikki:  Toxic positivity. 


Pete:  Sorry. Reversed it.


Nikki:  No, I love that. I love that.  I like that too. 


Pete: What did I say? 


Nikki: You said positive toxicity, which I also like, just harder to say.


Pete: It was hard to say.


Nikki: Yes. I wanted to help you say it. 


Pete:  Thank you. I appreciate you.  And so it can't always just be like, oh, let me change my perspective because this person just hurt my feelings. Let me just understand where they came from. You know, it's just that, what I find is, as I've exercised my brain through the practice of mindfulness, I'm able to just do this organically where I'm less affected, because some of the research shows that perspective taking will directly affect mood.  You know.


Nikki:  Oh, a hundred percent. I appreciate what you're saying, though Pete. I think I would gently challenge and say, I don't, necessarily think you're doing it organically. I think it's like the muscles are stronger. So it's still effortful, right and, the reason I want to clarify that is, I think sometimes, people will say, why is this so hard? And it's like, if go back to exercise, if you're a weightlifter and you can bench press a hundred pounds. If you've been doing that for a long time, they don't do it with ease, it's not like, bench pressing a hundred pounds is the same as lifting five pounds. No, it's very effortful, but you have the muscle to do it so it doesn't drain you necessarily in the same way if you never lifted a hundred pounds before. 


Pete:  So your brain is a little exercised at it. 


Nikki:  Yes. Your brain's exercised at it. Also, something you just said, I think it is important to highlight, it's not just about like you're driving, someone cuts you off and that person might be having a bad day. You could do that. Right. But think again, perspective taking it, all it means is, putting yourself at different vantage points. Like trying to understand. And so it can be having compassion again, compassion also requires perspective taking though it doesn't have to be that. It's just saying my vantage point, isn't the only vantage point, there are infinite vantage points and putting yourself even like, that's why I like the example of the Piaget study because you can even think of it like in a spatial relations way, right? It takes effort.


Pete: Of course.


Nikki: If you're sitting in your house right now, imagine putting yourself on the other side of the room what would you be viewing from that vantage point? That takes effort, right That's perspective taking, we can do it in all kinds of ways. 


Pete:  Yes. And so, I think maybe you would talk. Do you help people see this cognitive distortions or, what kind of approaches that you might take around helping people exercise their muscle towards perspective taking?


Nikki:  Well, I think any kind of process where you are talking about different experiences, other than one zone, gives you the opportunity to practice this. So, certainly in psychotherapy we're doing that. Right, mindfulness of course, I always share with people that behavioral practice is going to help increase flexibility, so that's going to help. So I wouldn't say I don't go after cognitive distortions, I'm asking people, it's be more behavioral, right? Like what might that person's experience be in this situation? If they're mad at their partner or something, I'll say, if you were in that situation, if the roles were flipped, how would you feel?


Pete: Or what would you do? 


Nikki: Or what would you do? Right. So I think it's more about just the practice of putting yourself in someone else's shoes, we can even practice that. For example, when we read literature, like I read an article that was talking about, I'm not familiar with the study, people that read a lot of fiction have increased levels of empathy.


Pete:  Oh, interesting. 


Nikki: Because you're putting the reading [Crosstalk 12:41], well, not so much more creative. It's about perspective taking, you have to put yourself in the character's shoes, right. 


Pete:  Well, I think fiction is more creative because, in my perspective, I never really enjoyed reading fiction as much as nonfiction. 


Nikki:  Sure. And, and look, maybe if you were reading like memoir or nonfiction, that would be,  [Crosstalk 13:01], more about the character, it's more about being in the mind of somebody. It's more to that point. That's how when I'm talking about it therapeutically, I’m literally asking people to.


Pete:  I got one to stump you. I think I'm going to stump you, let's say you're trying a perspective take with someone who's being irrational?


Nikki:  Sure. 


Pete: Just leave it there.


Nikki: Yes, doesn't stump me, because what I would say is another way of saying that would be, somebody who's really rigidly attached to their own perspective. And the reason that doesn't stump me is that's usually what happens in therapy because, that's where we find ourselves where we [Inaudible 13:50].


Pete:  Well, I knew what you meant.


Nikki: Yes, yes [Crosstalk 13:51]. Well, it goes back to, I'm going to validate them. I'm going to say, I'm going to perspective take.  Actually, I'm going to understand why they're so stuck. I'm going to acknowledge their perspective and then I'm going to try different avenues, right? And I think the one that tends to help a lot of people is when you start with asking them to put themselves in the situation.  So, like I said, if you're mad at your partner about something, flip the roles, if it was happening to you, how would you feel? I don't know. What, about you? What do you tend to do?


Pete:  Yes, same. I think that helps. Sometimes you do family or couple's work, you'll have that in the room. I find this is easier to do when you're one on one but when you have the actual disconnect or the different perspectives in the same room, it is challenging. So I think for listeners, this is not an easy thing to overcome by any means. This is really, really, really challenging. 


Nikki:  And it's really challenging when we are feeling intense emotion or we believe something very passionately, right. Because we know intense emotion and beliefs were really attached to perspective we're going to get more righteous, more rigid, more linear about things.


Pete:  I was speaking of like our righteousness episode. 


Nikki:  Yes, and our righteousness, we called it righteousness and rigidity because those things [Crosstalk 15:17] go together. Right. So I mean it's really important what Pete's saying. It's really hard to perspective take, especially when we really disagree with somebody or we feel really angry about something and the more we practice it, what do we do?  I guess this is important to say, when we practice perspective taking it is going to be a part of being more psychologically flexible, right?


Pete: Yes.


Nikki: And what do we know? And we've said it many times here, psychological flexibility is highly correlated with psychological wellbeing. The research around this is very robust in that regard. So I think that's something listeners can think about, if you know, even though it's really hard to do.  Just like exercising, you’re lifting weights and you exercise your brain, you practice perspective taking It is going to actually contribute to your own psychological wellness.


Pete:  Yes. That's great. And what comes to me is we're speaking of, to bring in some of the Eastern stuff, it just came to me.


Nikki: And I knew it would. Yes.


Pete:  You knew it would. I didn’t. But I feel that the teaching that I've worked a little bit on is like, no self. And so there's a teaching in the Eastern traditions that there is no self, so philosophically you learn like there's no I, there's no you as a pronoun  I. Me as a person, my identities and so no self, requires perspective because it requires that flexibility to understand that I'm not even in an argument.


Nikki:  Yes. Say more. I mean, I've liked this concept quite a bit, although it is probably one of the most difficult concepts to connect with. 


Pete: 100%


Nikki: So can you say a little bit more about why those things are interrelated? Because I'm going to guess there's a lot of listeners going, like, what do you mean? What do you mean there's no, I? 


Pete:  Well, if we think we're going to get that done in the next couple minutes before we wrap up, I think that's just, [Crosstalk 17:10]. That's a tall order because it's something that, I've been studying for 15years, and I still don't fully get it. I get it intellectually, but I don't always feel it, that there are non-self theory. There's a Mandela model of self. There are a couple teachings around what this means. And it's often in the Eastern tradition they will teach about ego.


Nikki: Right.


Pete:  And how the ego is that which is involved. And so, again, I think we're looking at the negative behavioral stuff so if I'm having an argument with somebody and I’m feeling unhappy in my skin for whatever reason that's often related to how I'm seeing myself. How I'm thinking, I'm being seen by somebody else, that ego piece of it.  Also, like accomplishments, you know the ego is what drives some people to accomplish. To achieve a high office in the company or to achieve a high office in politics.  So these theories of non-self-means that none of that actually, and that's attachment to self, it's attachment to accomplishment and, we know this universal experience of suffering is caused by attachment.


Nikki:  Right. And maybe in its attachment, I could say to like the concept of self, if we use an acceptance of commitment therapy, which obviously borrows very heavily from Eastern traditions. Right. We actually say that folks can get, an attachment to the conceptualized self, which is really what Pete's describing. Which is going to get in the way of looking at other perspectives, because you're originally attached to your own. I don't think we can end this conversation without talking about mentallization. 


Pete: Go ahead.


Nikki: It is similar and also related to some of the understanding and research around folks that are on the spectrum, which I know you have more knowledge about than I do. But mentalizing is a term you might know, also come across, which is again, also is perspective taking, it's another name for it. Like there's even a therapy called mentalization based therapy.


Pete: I've never heard of that.


Nikki: Oh you haven't? [inaudible 19:23].


Pete: So smart. Yeah, from 1998. It says, ‘The capacity to reflect one's behavior and that of others based on intentional internal mental states.’


Nikki:  Yes, and often used with borderline personality sorts. So it can also be used in combination with dialectical behavior therapy.


Pete: Got it.


Nikki: But my understanding is, those that have a spectrum based disorder from a cognitive perspective, like there's difficulty mentalizing right. Difficulty putting oneself, again, going back to that Piagetian example, right? 


Pete: Sure.


Nikki: Putting yourself in another's perspective, am I right about that?


Pete:  Yes. You're beautiful. Yes, it’s a big thing and, actually like the diorama and some other sort of Easter stuff, like holding onto your personal identity is a delusion. And so that will be like, I kind of want to drop the mic there because I think it will be hard. That's how deep they go into letting go off non-self because the idea of self is delusional. So, you know, listeners, this is what we think about in terms of behavioral and aspects of perspective taking. And sometimes a change of perspective is all that it takes to see the light. 


Pete: This has been When East Meets West I'm Dr. Pete Economou


Nikki:  And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin Be present, be brave.


Pete: This has been When East Meets West. All material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors, Pete Economou and Nikki Rubin.


Nikki:  Content is for informational and educational purposes only.