Symbolically Mediated Interaction and Perspective-taking:

A Social-relational Perspective on Social Cognitive Development

Avant, Vol. X, No. 3/2019, doi: 10.26913/avant.2019.03.28
published under license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Duygu Uygun Tunc
University of Heidelberg
duygu.uygun @

Published Online First 31 December 2019   Download full text

Abstract: It is widely agreed that perspective-taking plays an important role in the development of children’s understanding of themselves and others as social agents with their own beliefs, desires, goals, and representations of the world. However, how perspective-taking is realized and how the ability of perspective-taking develops is a matter of dissensus. The two theories currently dominating social cognition research, theory-theory, and simulation-theory construe perspective-taking as modeling, thus as an individual and inferential process. Interactionist theories prioritize interpersonal interaction but deny perspective-taking a constitutive role by arguing for a basic, immediate understanding of self and others in interaction. Cognitivist accounts downplay the role of interaction, while interactionist accounts overemphasize the role of sub-symbolical processes. What is central to perspective-taking and its development, but missing in either approach is symbolically mediated interaction. The social-relational perspective dating back to Lev Vygotsky and George Herbert Mead cuts across this schism and offers valuable insight into how perspective-taking develops through symbolic activity within a social context. Adopting the basic elements of the social-relational framework, the present work argues that understanding of self and others depends on the development of perspective-taking ability through symbolically mediated interaction. Perspectives are primarily differentiated, assumed, and coordinated within social interaction and subsequently through the individual, cognitive operation of perspective-taking. Symbolic mediation facilitates this transition from the social enaction of perspective-taking to mental construal and coordination of perspectives by transforming the structure of action. Higher order mental processes are not presupposed but constituted by social interaction through the child’s internalization of the perspectival structure of symbolic communication.

Keywords: cperspective-taking; symbolic interaction; cognitive development; social interaction; cognition


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