Perspective-taking in another culture
As humans, our ability to read minds (see description of Smarties' test) is so developed that often we tune into other people spontaneously and with little effort. We may mentally map reality not only through our own perspective, but also through that of other people. This ability has been demonstrated in our previous lab studies, in both adults and children. A recent study of ours shows that this attunement presents more distinctly when we share cultural group membership with the social partner (see also our quick summary of “Taking others’ perspectives is already fast in children”). In the present study, we wanted to see how universal this phenomenon could be and whether the same phenomenon could be observed in a culture different from our own.
To this end, we conducted a study among 8-year-old Indonesian children. Of the 58 participants, 20 were assigned to a task with a native Indonesian speaker, 21 were assigned to a task with an Indonesian speaker with a Hungarian accent (cultural group-based group membership), and 17 children were assigned to a task with a classmate (minimal group membership). The participants were assigned the same task as described in our summary of “Taking others’ perspectives is already fast in children”. In one part of the study, everyone performed the task alone, while in another part, participants performed the task simultaneously with a partner.
We expect that if someone also automatically maps the other's perspective in their mind, then when performing the task together, processing of the asymmetric (6-9) numbers will become harder and thus, reaction times will be slower overall. For Hungarian children, this effect was observed when they participated with an adult of the same mother tongue but not when the partner spoke a foreign language. On the other hand, this effect was only found for Indonesian children when they were tested with a classmate. This suggests that in the case of Indonesian children, proximity (and thus spontaneous attunement) was influenced by the age of the social partner to a greater degree than by other factors. In the Hungarian sample however, cultural differences seemed to play a more prominent role. This is presumably because different societies may have different ways of perceiving differences between adults and children (e.g., in terms of authority).