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is inability to “put oneself in other peoples’ shoes” and a personality trait which has the characteristic of regarding oneself and one’s own opinions or interests as most important or valid. It also generates the inability to fully understand or to cope with other people’s opinions and the fact that reality can be different from what they are ready to accept despite any change in their personal belief.
In psychology, Egocentrism is defined as:
- the incomplete differentiation of the self and the world, including other people,
- the tendency to perceive, understand and interpret the world in terms of the self, and
- being over preoccupied with ones own internal world.
The term derives from the Greek and Latin ἑγώ / ego, meaning “I”, “me”, and “self”. An egocentric person cannot fully empathize, i.e. “put himself in other peoples’ shoes”. The egocentrics believe everyone should see what they see or that what they see, in some way, exceeds what most other people can see, i.e. “how I see the world now is how the world is”. To them, any different perception than their own is either considered false or non existent.
Jean Piaget (1896–1980) claimed that young children are egocentric. This does not mean that they are selfish, but that they do not have the mental ability to understand that other people may have different opinions and beliefs from themselves.
While definitely there are multitude scale levels of egocentrism, mostly it is found in children and then adolescents. Adults are also susceptible to be egocentric or react in such manners.
Eventually a mentally healthy individual evolves out of most of his or her egocentric habits. Adults unable to do so, if forced to face the issue, will often argue of having changed and widen their perception of the world and of having learned from their past mistakes. Unfortunately, despite a new mindset and a confession, they will still practice the habits of regarding oneself and one’s own opinions or interests as most important or valid and still are unable to cope properly with different frames of reference, opinions or point of views other than their own.
In younger children
It appears that this egocentric stance towards the world is present mostly in younger children. They are unable to separate their own beliefs, thoughts and ideas from others. For example, if a child sees that there is candy in a box, he assumes that someone else walking into the room also knows that there is candy in that box. He implicitly reasons that “since I know it, you know it too”. As stated previously this may be rooted in the limitations in the child’s theory of mind skills. However, it does not mean that children are unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. As far as feelings are concerned, it is shown that children exhibit empathy early on and are able to cooperate with others and be aware of their needs and wants. With his colleague Barbel Inhelder, 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.
Younger children before age 7, during the so-called pre-operational stage, 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 so-called concrete-operational stage at age 7–12, children became capable of de-centering 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. It is thought that Piaget overestimated the levels of egocentrism in children.
Egocentrism is thus the child’s inability to see other people’s viewpoints. The child at this stage of cognitive development assumes that their view of the world is the same as other people’s, e.g. a little girl does not understand that taking another child’s ball is wrong because she views the ball as hers.
Although most of the research completed on the topic of egocentrism is primarily focused on early childhood development; where in later years of development egocentrism should be declining, there are certainly other views to be had. Another view often discussed on the topic of egocentrism is the egocentrism in the adolescent population. Throughout the development of adolescence the body goes through many mental and physical changes. David Elkind was one of the first to really discover the presence of egocentrism in adolescence and late adolescence. David Elkind argues that “the young adolescent, because of 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.” This shows that the adolescent is exhibiting egocentrism because he cannot clearly identify another person’s perception. Elkind also created terms to help describe the egocentric behaviors exhibited by the adolescent population such as, what he calls an imaginary audience and personal fable. Imaginary audience refers to the idea that most adolescents believe that there is some audience that is constantly present that is overly interested in what the individual has to say or do. Personal fable refers to the idea that many teenagers believe that they are the only ones who are capable of feeling the way that they do. 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.
A study was completed on 163 undergraduate students to examine the adolescent egocentrism in college students. Students were asked to complete a self-report questionnaire to determine the level of egocentrism present. The questions simply asked for the reactions that students had to seemingly embarrassing situations. It was found that adolescent egocentrism was more prevalent in the female population than the male. This again exemplifies the idea that egocentrism is present in even late adolescence.
Results from other studies have come to the conclusion that egocentrism does not present itself in some of the same patterns as it was found originally. More recent studies have found that egocentrism is prevalent in later years of development unlike Piaget’s original findings that suggested that egocentrism is only present in early childhood development. Recent studies have also implied that egocentrism is not universally present in all late adolescence. It greatly depends on the environment in which you were raised or are presently in. It is suggested that in stressful situations for example school that egocentrism can be higher. Also the sort of family life one was raised in could determine the amount of egocentric behaviors present. For example an only child is more likely to exhibit personal fable like behavior because they are constantly focused on, and often believe they are the only ones that matter. Overall this suggests that there are some inconsistencies, or at the very least qualifications, to Piaget’s model of human cognitive development.
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