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Not to be confused with Narcissism.

Egocentrism is notion that when making judgments, one predominantly focuses on the self rather than on others (Windschitl, Kruger & Simms, 2003). Piaget, (1977/1995, p. 279) an expert in developmental psychology, defined the concept as an “unconscious confusion of one’s own point of view with that of the other”. Although egocentric behaviors are less prominent in adulthood, overcoming them may be a lifelong development that never achieves completion.[3]Therefore, egocentrism is found across the life span: in infancy [4] early childhood,[5] adolescence,[6] and adulthood.[7] It contributes to the human cognitive development by helping children develop theory of mind and self-identity formation.

Piaget's view[edit]

According to Piaget, "an egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear, and feel exactly the same as the child does." [10][unreliable source?] He outlined a few problems which arise from egocentrism, where there is lack of awareness for having a different point of view from others and failure to recognize the physical world as a separate entity from the self. One of the main obstacles to logic that children possess includes centration, "the tendency to focus on one aspect of a situation to the exclusion of others."[12] A particular type of centration is egocentrism - literally, "self-centeredness." Piaget claimed that young children are egocentric, capable of contemplating the world only from their personal perspective. For example, a three-year-old presented his mother a model truck as her birthday present; "he had carefully wrapped the present and gave it to his mother with an expression that clearly showed he expected her to love it."[13] The three-year-old boy had not chosen the present out of selfishness or greediness, but he simply failed to realize that, from his mother's perspective, she might not enjoy the model car as much as he would. Piaget was concerned with two aspects of egocentricity in children: language and morality.[14] He believed that egocentric children use language primarily for communication with oneself. Piaget observed that children would talk to themselves during play, and this egocentric speech was merely the child’s thoughts.[15] He believed that this speech had no special function; it was used as a way of accompanying and reinforcing the child’s current activity. He theorized that as the child matures cognitively and socially the amount of egocentric speech used would be reduced.[15] However, Vygotsky felt that egocentric speech has more meaning, as it allows the child’s growth in social speech and high mental development.[15] In addition to Piaget’s theory, he believed that when communicating with others, the child believes that others know everything about the topic of discussion and become frustrated when asked to give further detail.[14] Piaget also believed that egocentrism affects the child’s sense of morality.[14] Due to egocentrism, the child is only concerned with the final outcome of an event rather than another’s intentions. For example, if someone breaks the child’s toy, the child would not forgive the other and the child wouldn't be able to understand that the person who broke the toy did not intend to break it.[14] Piaget did a test to investigate egocentrism called the mountains study. He put children in front of a simple plaster mountain range and then asked them to pick from four pictures the view that he, Piaget, would see. The younger children before age seven picked the picture of the view they themselves saw and were therefore found to lack the ability to appreciate a viewpoint different from their own. In other words, their way of reasoning was egocentric. Only when entering the concrete-operational stage of development at age seven to twelve, children became less egocentric and could appreciate viewpoints other than their own. In other words, they were capable of cognitive perspective-taking. However, the mountains test has been criticized for judging only the child's visuo-spatial awareness, rather than egocentrism. A follow up study involving police dolls showed that even young children were able to correctly say what the interviewer would see.[16] It is thought that Piaget overestimated the extent of egocentrism in children. Egocentrism is thus the child's inability to see other people's viewpoints, not to be confused with selfishness. The child at this stage of cognitive development assumes that their view of the world is the same as other peoples.

Theory of Mind[edit]

Researchers suggest that around the age of 4, children acquire 'theory of mind'. This is the notion that a fundamental change occurs in their understanding of others' behaviours through the realisation that beliefs do not necessarily reflect reality but are actually individual interepretations formed by the self which may differ from others (Onishi & Baillargeon, 2005). Initially when children begin to have social interactions with others, mainly the caregivers, they misinterpret that they are one entity, because they are together for a long duration of time and the caregivers often provide for the children's needs. For example, a child may misattribute the act of his/her mother reaching to retrieve an object that he/she points to as a sign that they are the same entity, when in fact they are actually separate individuals. As children start to acquire ToM around the age of 4 (Luo, 2011), their ability to recognize and process others’ beliefs and values overrides the natural tendency to be egocentric. As early as 15-months old,[4] children show a mix of egocentrism when an agent acts inconsistently with how the children expect him to behave (Onishi & Baillargeon, 2005). In this study the children observed the experimenter place a toy inside one of two boxes, but did not see when the experimenter removed the toy from the original box and placed it in the other box, due to obstruction by a screen. When the screen was removed the children watched the experimenter reach to take the toy out of one of the boxes, yet because the children did not see the switching part, they looked at the experimenter’s action much longer when she reached for the box opposite to the one she originally put the toy in. This suggested that children as young as 15 months old may understand others' beliefs (Luo, 2011). Thomas and Jacoby (2013) suggest that adults usually overcome egocentrism in theory of mind tasks but show it in other situations where they are particularly influenced by their hindsight bias (Hawkins & Hastie, 1990; Fischhoff, 1975).

Adolescence and Adulthood[edit]

Contrary to Piaget's idea that egocentrism is only present in early childhood, more recent studies have found that egocentrism is also prevalent in later years of development.[25] Although most of the research completed on the study of egocentrism is primarily focused on early childhood development, it has been found to also occur during adolescence. Egocentrism is especially dominant in early adolescence, particularly when individuals encounter new environments, such as a new school or a new peer group.[12] For example, starting secondary school requires the adolescent to protect the self, which may lead to egocentrism.[21] Other various reasons explain why adolescents may experience egocentrism: • Development of the adolescent’s identity may lead to the individual experiencing high levels of uniqueness, which subsequently becomes egocentric – this manifests as the personal fable.[22] • Parental rejection may lead to the adolescents experiencing high levels of self-consciousness, [23]

[18] David Elkind elaborated on Piaget’s stages of cognitive development (Frankenberger, 2000) and argued that, "the young adolescent, because of the physiological metamorphosis he is undergoing, is primarily concerned with himself. Accordingly, since he fails to differentiate between what others are thinking about and his own mental preoccupations, he assumes that other people are obsessed with his behavior and appearance as he is himself." [19] This shows that the adolescent is exhibiting egocentrism, by struggling to distinguish whether or not, in actuality, if others are fond of them as they might think because their own thoughts are so prevalent. Adolescents consider themselves as "unique, special, and much more socially significant than they actually are."[12] Elkind also created terms to help describe the egocentric behaviors exhibited by the adolescent population such as what he calls an imaginary audience, the personal fable, and the invincibility fable. Usually when an egocentric adolescent is experiencing an imaginary audience, it entails the belief that there is an audience captivated and constantly present to an extent of being overly interested about the egocentric individual. Personal fable refers to the idea that many teenagers believe their thoughts, feelings, and experiences are unique and more extreme than anyone else's.[20] In the invincibility fable, the adolescent believes in the idea that he or she is immune to misfortune and cannot be harmed that might defeat a normal person.[12] Egocentrism in adolescence is often viewed as a negative aspect of their thinking ability because adolescents become consumed with themselves and are unable to effectively function in society due to their skewed version of reality and cynicism.

In addition, throughout adolescence, egocentrism contributes to the development of self-identity. In order to achieve self-identity, adolescents go through different pathways of "crisis" and "commitment" stages.[26] It was found that higher self-identity achievement correlates with heightened egocentrism.[27] Adults are also susceptible to be egocentric or to have reactions or behaviours that can be categorized as egocentric (Tesch, Whitbourne & Nehrke, 1978).[29] To test whether egocentrism extends into adulthood, Frankenberger (2000) compared three different age range groups (19-30, 31-59, and 60-89). Researchers suggested from the results that egocentric tendencies usually do not decline until middle adult years. Baron and Hanna (1990) explored extrinsic factors such as how the presence of depression affected egocentrism.[31] They tested adults between the ages of 18 and 25 and found that those who suffered from depression showed higher levels of egocentrism than those who did not. Surtees and Apperly (2012) tested both children and adults on a novel visual perspective-taking task. It was found that across all age groups, participants found it difficult to judge an other's perspective when it differed from their self's. These results were found even when it was clear that the participant processed the other's perspective. The researchers justify this with the possibility that children make "egocentric errors". These are errors based on one's privileged perspective-taking on simple tasks. On another note, adults rely on their "egocentric bias" when completing more complex tasks (Bernstein, Atance, Loftus, & Meltzoff, 2004).

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Caputi M., Lecce S., Pagnin A., Banerjee R. (2012). "Longitudinal effects of theory of mind on later peer relations: The role of prosocial behavior". Developmental Psychology 48 (1): 257–270. doi:10.1037/a0025402. 
  • Young, Gerald (2011). Development and Causality: Neo-Piagetian Perspectives. New York, NY: Springer. ISBN 978-1-441-99421-9. 

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