The two forms of visuo-spatial perspective taking are differently embodied and subserve different spatial prepositions

Klaus Kessler, Hannah Rutherford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We set out to distinguish level 1 (VPT-1) and level 2 (VPT-2) perspective taking with respect to the embodied nature of the underlying processes as well as to investigate their dependence or independence of response modality (motor vs. verbal). While VPT-1 reflects understanding of what lies within someone else’s line of sight, VPT-2 involves mentally adopting someone else’s spatial point of view. Perspective taking is a high-level conscious and deliberate mental transformation that is crucially placed at the convergence of perception, mental imagery, communication, and even theory of mind in the case of VPT-2. The differences between VPT-1 and VPT-2 mark a qualitative boundary between humans and apes, with the latter being capable of VPT-1 but not of VPT-2. However, our recent data showed that VPT-2 is best conceptualized as the deliberate simulation or emulation of a movement, thus underpinning its embodied origins. In the work presented here we compared VPT-2 to VPT-1 and found that VPT-1 is not at all, or very differently embodied. In a second experiment we replicated the qualitatively different patterns for VPT-1 and VPT-2 with verbal responses that employed spatial prepositions. We conclude that VPT-1 is the cognitive process that subserves verbal localizations using “in front” and “behind,” while VPT-2 subserves “left” and “right” from a perspective other than the egocentric. We further conclude that both processes are grounded and situated, but only VPT-2 is embodied in the form of a deliberate movement simulation that increases in mental effort with distance and incongruent proprioception. The differences in cognitive effort predict differences in the use of the associated prepositions. Our findings, therefore, shed light on the situated, grounded and embodied basis of spatial localizations and on the psychology of their use.
Original languageEnglish
Article number213
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

© 2010 Kessler and Rutherford. This is an open-access article subject to an exclusive license agreement between the authors and the Frontiers Research Foundation, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.


  • grounding
  • embodiment
  • movement simulation
  • perspective taking, social cognition
  • spatial language


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