Role-taking, perspective taking, and empathy have developed through parallel literatures in sociology and psychology. All three concepts address the ways that people attune the self to others’ thoughts and feelings. Despite conceptual and operational overlap, researchers have yet to synthesize existing research across the three concepts. We undertake the task of theoretical synthesis, constructing a model in which role-taking emerges as a multidimensional process that includes perspective taking and empathy as component parts.
We review the literatures on role-taking, perspective taking, and empathy across disciplines. Focusing on definitions, measures, and interventions, we discern how the concepts overlap, how they are distinct, and how they work together in theoretically meaningful ways.
The review identifies two key axes on which each concept varies: the relative roles of affect and cognition, and the relative emphasis on self and structure. The review highlights the cognitive nature of perspective taking, the affective nature of empathy, and the structural nature of role-taking. In a move toward theoretical synthesis, we propose a definition that centers role-taking as a sociological construct, with perspective taking and empathy representing cognition and affect, respectively.
Role-taking is an important part of selfhood and community social life. It is a skill that varies in patterned ways, including along lines of status and power. Theoretical synthesis clarifies the process of role-taking and fosters the construction of effective interventions aimed at equalizing role-taking in interpersonal interaction.
Davis, J.L. and Love, T.P. (2017), "Self-in-Self, Mind-in-Mind, Heart-in-Heart: The Future of Role-Taking, Perspective Taking, and Empathy", Advances in Group Processes (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 151-174. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0882-614520170000034007
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