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Egocentric Person

Egocentrism was derived from Jean Piaget's 1951 theory of cognitive development. Egocentrism refers to an inability to differentiate between self and other.[1]

An individual who is egocentric would meet the necessary and sufficient criteria of:

  1. The individual is always under the assumption that all actions and events revolve around their existence.
  2. The individual fails to acknowledge any perspectives other than their own.

An individual who meets only criteria 1 is identified as an narcissist. Although egocentrism and narcissism appear similar, they are not the same. A person who is egocentric believes they are the center of attention, like a narcissist, but does not receive gratification by one's own admiration. A narcissist is a person whose ego is greatly influenced by the approval of others while an egotist does not care for opinions of others. An individual who meets only criteria 2 is labeled as absolutistic. Similarly, egocentrism and absolutism appear to be the same but are not. An egotist is similar to an absolutist, in that both believe their opinion to be the greatest. They differ in the sense that an egotist's opinion must always allow everything to center around themselves, while an absolutist can form an opinion that does not center themselves, yet believes their idea and opinion is non contest.[2] Egocentricism most commonly appears in early stages of childhood. As a child grows older the manifestation of the egocentric traits either become more subtle or carry on to adulthood. The manifestation of egocentrism in adulthood can be similar or exact to that of childhood but less overlooked because of social constructs, dogmas, and norms.[3]

Egocentrism during childhood[edit]

According to Butterworth and Harris, during childhood, one is usually unable to distinguish between what is subjective and objective.[4] In other words, according to Piaget, "an egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear, and feel exactly the same as the child does." [5]

Jean Piaget (1896–1980) developed a theory about the development of human intelligence, describing the stages of cognitive development. He claimed that early childhood is the time of pre-operational thought, characterized by children's inability to process logical thought. According to Piaget, 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."[6] 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."[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[9] However, Vygotsky felt that egocentric speech has more meaning, as it allows the child’s growth in social speech and high mental development.[9] 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.[8]

Piaget also believed that egocentrism affects the child’s sense of morality.[8] 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.[8] This phenomenon can also be backed by the evidence from the findings of the case study by Nelson, who studied the use of motives and outcomes by young children as aiding to form their moral judgements.

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.[10] 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.

Egocentrism during adolescence[edit]

Although most of the research completed on the topic of egocentrism is primarily focused on early childhood development it has been found to occur during adolescence.[11] David Elkind was one of the first to discover the presence of egocentrism in adolescence and late adolescence. David Elkind argues, "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." [12] This shows that the adolescent is exhibiting egocentrism, due to their lack of ability to understand others perceptions, as well as failing to distinguish whether or not, in actuality, if others are fond of them as they might think. Adolescents consider themselves as "unique, special, and much more socially significant than they actually are."[6]

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.[13] 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.[6] 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.

There are various reasons as to why adolescents experience egocentrism:

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.[17] 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.[18] Egocentrism is especially dominant in early adolescence, particularly when adolescents encounter new environments, such as a new school or a new peer group.[6]

Egocentrism during adulthood[edit]

The prevalence of egocentrism on the individual has been found to decrease between the age of 15 and 16.[19] However, adults are also susceptible to be egocentric or to have reactions or behaviours that can be categorized as egocentric (Tesch, Whitbourne & Nehrke, 1978).[20]

Lorraine McDonald and Ian Stuart-Hamilton tested egocentrism in older adults by revisiting Piaget’s “Three Mountains Task.” The people were a variation of ages ranging from 25 and older up until 70 years old. The three mountains set up was similar to those in Piaget’s (1956) diagram, however, the doll was not used but a “farmer” small figure was used. Participants were asked to see what the “farmer” saw from six different positions while sitting at their designated seat. Another task was to put the farmer at the location where a chosen “photo” of a viewpoint was. The experimenters predicted that because adulthood is when people operate at the “concrete operational stage” there should’ve been more correct answers but there weren’t. Researchers argue that maybe the errors represented poor spatial skills over egocentrism. [21]

Frankenberger tested adolescents (14–18 years old) and adults (20-89) on their levels of egocentrism and self-consciousness.[22] It was found that egocentric tendencies had extended to early adulthood and was that these tendencies were also present in the middle adult years.

Baron and Hanna looked at 152 participants and tested to see how the presence of depression affected egocentrism.[23] They tested adults between the ages of 18 and 25. It was found that the participants with depression showed higher levels of egocentrism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anderman, Eric M.; Anderman, Lynley H. (2009). "Egocentrism". Psychology of Classroom Learning: An Encyclopedia 1: 355–357. 
  2. ^ Vartanian, L. R. (2005). Encyclopedia of School Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. p. 187. Retrieved 20 Oct 2014. 
  3. ^ Pronin, Emily; Olivola, Christopher Y. (2006). Encyclopedia of Human Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference. pp. 441–442. Retrieved 20 Oct 2014. 
  4. ^ Butterworth G Harris M (1994). Principles of developmental psychology. Hillsdale, NJ England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d Berger, Kathleen Stassen (2014). Invitation to the Life Span, Second Edition. New York: Worth Publishers. 
  7. ^ Crain, William C. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications, Fifth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. p. 108. 
  8. ^ a b c d Fogiel, M (1980). The psychology problem solver: a complete solution guide to any textbook. New Jersey, NJ US: Research & Education Association. 
  9. ^ a b c Junefelt, K (2007). Rethinking egocentric speech: towards a new hypothesis. New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc. 
  10. ^ Sammons, A (2010). [url= "Tests of egocentrism"]. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  11. ^ Goossens L., Seiffge-Krenke I., Marcoen A. (1992). "The many faces of adolescent egocentrism: Two European replications". Journal Of Adolescent Research 7 (1): 43–58. doi:10.1177/074355489271004. 
  12. ^ Elkind D (December 1967). "Egocentrism in adolescence". Child Dev 38 (4): 1025–34. doi:10.2307/1127100. JSTOR 1127100. PMID 5583052. 
  13. ^ Vartanian LR (Winter 2000). "Revisiting the imaginary audience and personal fable constructs of adolescent egocentrism: a conceptual review". Adolescence 35 (140): 639–61. PMID 11214204. 
  14. ^ Peterson K. L., Roscoe B. (1991). "Imaginary audience behavior in older adolescent females". Adolescence 26 (101): 195–200. 
  15. ^ O'Connor B. P., Nikolic J. (1990). "Identity development and formal operations as sources of adolescent egocentrism". Journal Of Youth And Adolescence 19 (2): 149–158. doi:10.1007/BF01538718. 
  16. ^ Riley T., Adams G. R., Nielsen E. (1984). "Adolescent egocentrism: The association among imaginary audience behavior, cognitive development, and parental support and rejection". Journal Of Youth And Adolescence 13 (5): 401–417. doi:10.1007/BF02088638. 
  17. ^ Rycek RF, Stuhr SL, McDermott J, Benker J, Swartz MD (Winter 1998). "Adolescent egocentrism and cognitive functioning during late adolescence". Adolescence 33 (132): 745–9. PMID 9886002. 
  18. ^ Myers, David G. (2008). Psychology. New York: Worth. ISBN 1-4292-2863-6. 
  19. ^ Louw, DA (1998). Human development, 2nd Ed. Cape Town, South Africa: Kagiso Tertiary. 
  20. ^ Tesch S., Whitbourne S. K., Nehrke M. F. (1978). "Cognitive egocentrism in institutionalized adult". Journal Of Gerontology 33 (4): 546–552. 
  21. ^ McDonald, L., & Stuart-Hamilton, I. (2002). EGOCENTRISM IN OLDER ADULTS-PIAGET'S THREE MOUNTAINS TASK REVISITED. Educational Gerontology, 28(1), 35-43. doi:10.1080/036012702753304476
  22. ^ Frankenberger K. D. (2000). "Adolescent egocentrism: A comparison among adolescents and adults". Journal Of Adolescence 23 (3): 343–354. doi:10.1006/jado.2000.0319. 
  23. ^ Baron, P; Hanna, J (1990). "Egocentrism and depressive symptomatology in young adults". Social Behavior And Personality 18 (2): 279–285. doi:10.2224/sbp.1990.18.2.279. 

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