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Salud mental

versão impressa ISSN 0185-3325


MARTIN GARCIA, María Jesús; GOMEZ-BECERRA, Inmaculada; CHAVEZ-BROWN, Mapy  e  GREER, Douglas. Toma de perspectiva y teoría de la mente: aspectos conceptuales y empíricos. Una propuesta complementaria y pragmática. Salud Ment [online]. 2006, vol.29, n.6, pp.5-14. ISSN 0185-3325.

The present work completes an exhaustive revisión of the delimitation of the ability of perspective taking from different points of view. First, perspective taking is defined as the ability of an individual to interpret his/hers emotional and mental states and those of others. Additionally, the term has also been used in medical settings to refer to a tactic intended to stop certain limiting feeling and/or thoughts and instead move feelings and thoughts towards a different direction. At the same time, perspective taking is considered to be at the heart of psychological phenomena such as empathy, that is, the capacity to distinguish what individuals know about themselves in a certain situation (how someone thinks, feels and behaves), self-awareness, interpersonal relations, and various social skills deficits.

Second, this ability is conceptualized as a metacognition and it is assumed that the object of study is the theory of the mind.

Third, from a developmental perspective, data have shown that children four to five years old, without any psychological disabilities, have the ability to take somebody else's perspective. We reviewed different studies regarding the development of the abilities to express and interpret emotions as precursors to perspective taking.

Subsequently, we revised and analyzed the tests or strategies most commonly used to evaluate the ability of perspective taking. Typically, the capacity of an individual to have "a theory of the mind" is determined through tests of false beliefs (such as the classic test of Sally-Anne, the "Smarties" test, "M&M's", and the "Maxi's" Test). Múltiple variations of the tests of false beliefs have been conducted with flashcards or photographs, with characters in oral stories, and through the use of games. Additionally, over the last few years the focus of this body of research has evolved towards the elaboration and validation instruments to measure empathy. Among them are the tests of Empathy Quotient (EQ), the Friendship Questionnaire (FQ), and reading the "mind" in the eyes. It is important to note that these efforts have been focused mostly on individuals with Asperger" s Syndrome or those with higher verbal capabilities.

From this latter perspective, we propose empirical evidence that points out to differences in the ability of perspective taking between children with or without autism. This is also shown in the results of previous studies, in which different levels of perspective taking skills were seen between children diagnosed with autism, and those diagnosed with Down Syndrome. It is important to note that this was not true when their verbal skills were not considered as a variable. Likewise, other studies showed that children with autism were not the only ones that failed the theory of the mind tests, but that these tests were also failed by those children with deficits in language and cognitive skills.

In this article, we present the results of a study that replicates previous findings which show that typical developing children per-form better in perspective taking tests, followed by children diag-nosed with Down Syndrome, and subsequently by children with autism. It was also noted that the typical developing children showed the highest level of verbal discrimination, followed by the children diagnosed with Down Syndrome, and finally the children diagnosed with autism. One important finding in this study is that all children benefited from the use of contextual prompts, which improved the number of correct responses across all the theory of the mind tests. Additionally, the data varied depending on the type of tests utilized to measure perspective taking skills.

In this article, we have also reviewed the different explanations for the origins and development of perspective taking, among which the theory of the mind prevails. The ability to take some-one else's perspective is explained by the development or matura-tion of an innate and specialized module of representations and knowledge, and the formation of conceptual structures of a higher order or meta-representations. Additionally, the ability to ignore perceptual information, salient or not, and to combine simultaneously various contexts are considered prerequisites. In other words, perspective taking speaks to the relationship between psychological constructs such as perception and knowledge. Additionally, it has been hypothesized that shared, joint, or independent attention can be a prerequisite for conversation, and may be the basis of a theory of the mind. In any case, the origins of the development of such a theory have been especially ubiquitous in terms of the executive function and possible relations with cerebral lesions or alterations. However, some authors consider that the process of central coherence may be relatively independent of a theory of the mind.

The research of Baron-Cohen et al. has concentrated on identifying existing neurological deficits or organic changes such as bilateral lesions or the role of testosterone on the quality of social interactions and the restrictive social interests of individuals with autism. A similar interest exists in researching the difference in perspective taking and empathy abilities exhibited by members of the opposite sex. Continuing with the neurological foundations of the empathy is of full present time the discoveries regarding «mirror neurons» and this recent study with monkeys proposes a specific cerebral area for the formation of the meta-representation. These neurons discharge both when the individual performs an action and when the individual observes another person performing the same action. Finally, even in the light of all the above, other sources point toward the social root of perspective taking skills.

Additionally, as indicated by the research of Howlin, Baron-Cohen & Hadwin, it is considered perspective taking includes five different levels: a) simple visual perspective taking, b) the knowl-edge that different individuals can have separately the same thoughts, and c) understanding that "seeing leads to learning," followed by d) the ability to predict actions based on valid beliefs, and finally e) the ability to predict false beliefs. In the light of all of the above, once the radical conclusions of these investigations are viewed critically, the theory of the mind is viewed as a disputable theory of the delimitation of the cause and development of such skills.

In addition, to the perspective taking tests themselves, the pre-requisite skills of perspective taking need to be extensively ana-lyzed. In fact, it has been shown that, in order to have an adequate performance on these tests of false beliefs, individuals should be able: 1. to remember and adequately retell their own past desires, thoughts, and past actions; 2. to retain an object in their mind, perceive a second object, and form a relationship between the two, as in a "symbolic function"; 3. to demonstrate the ability to pretend; and 4. to identify the role of age and verbal abilities in children as pre-requisites for an accurate performance on tests of false beliefs, and interpretations of the world.

Lastly, we propose a pragmatic and complementary analysis the Theory of Mind based in the functional-contextual analysis of behavior. First, it is considered that perspective taking requires or is closely related to other social behaviors (such as taking turns when talking, initiating verbal responses in interpersonal relations, and the capacity for empathy). In the same manner, theory of mind requires an adequate level of simple and complex conditional discriminations, and these should be analyzed in terms of stimulus control and equivalence relations. In other words, this ability to infer thoughts, feeling, and emotions of others exists if the following prerequisites are present: 1. the processes of the classical conditioning of the emotions, 2. a generalized imitation, and 3. the development of functional classes. Without these experiences or the capability to be affected by them, children (i.e. children with generalized autism) do not develop language adequately.

Second, perspective taking implies that an observer's previous experiences and observations with certain events determine his/ her reaction to responses emitted by others in similar circumstances. Finally, from a contextual perspective, it is considered that a speaker's relational frames play a role in this process (for the discriminations I/you, here/there, now/later). These relational properties are abstracted through multiple exemplars or multiple learning opportunities to speak from one's own perspective in relation to others.

Palavras-chave : Perspective taking; theory of mind; concepts; evidence; etiology; functional-contextual analysis.

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