Egocentrism Starts in Childhood
Egocentrism is a stage in a child’s development, usually from the ages of four to seven, which is characterized by a lack of awareness of different points of view other than one’s own. It is a self-absorbed stage of development where a child has not yet learned that things can be, and are, different from his own interpretations of them. For example, a child knows what a ball is, and he knows that the ball is round. He sees the round moon in the sky and concludes that it, too, is a ball.
Jean Piaget was a developmental biologist, well known for closely observing and recording the intellectual abilities of infants, children and adolescents. According to Piaget, egocentrism in childhood is the belief that everyone thinks alike. During this stage of development, children think that the entire world has the same outlook, feelings and wishes about life that they do. They believe that not only is the world created for them, but that they can control it.
Most egocentric thinking is self-centered. Piaget’s interpretation is that a child in this stage of development has difficulty understanding life from any perspective other than his own. During this phase, a child is very “me” oriented. Piaget also referred to this phase as the pre-operational stage of life.
Me! Me! Me!
By age four a child has enough command of language to carry on a conversation, but the conversation will likely be all about himself and what he is doing. For instance, if a child has a certain toy and is talking with another child while playing, no matter what the other child may say, every answer the first child gives will be about the toy he is playing with. It is as if he does not even hear the other child talking. He is only concerned with what interests him at the moment.
Egocentrism also encompasses additional phases of early childhood development. There is realism, which is the confusion of the objective and the subjective, animism, the confusion of animate and inanimate objects, and artificialism, the confusion of human-generated activities with natural causes. These forms of egocentrism display the inability to differentiate the subjective from the objective. A child will apply subjective ideas onto external objects. They are unable to relate to others except from their own perspective, and they change objective ideas into their own subjective worlds.
After age seven, children begin to understand that different people have different points of view from their own. A child who is still exhibiting egocentric behavior may be asked to go out and pick certain flowers of certain colors, but will return with only the flowers that interest him. After age seven, a child who is given the same directions will likely return with the flowers requested; he is beginning to understand that there are different points of view to the same topic.
But though egocentrism is usually considered to be a stage in early cognitive development, such thinking may not entirely disappear, even in later periods of development. Even as an adult, narcissism is somewhat related to egocentrism in that a narcissist wants the whole world to be about him.