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Jean Piaget was a scientist from Switzerland who developed the theory that children’s cognitive development develops in stages. He originally began studying child development by examining a child’s IQ using Binet’s IQ tests, having particular interest in the answers that were incorrect and coming up with the idea that children think differently compared to adults, and that their thinking develops in stages. This is called the Theory of Cognitive Development.

Sensorimotor Stage

The first stage, the Sensorimotor Stage, is where infants learn through mainly sensory and motor experiences.

Pre-Operational Stage

The second stage, the Pre-operational Stage, is where preschoolers learn through attempting to make sense of the world around them using their intuitions and not necessarily their logic.

Formal Operations Stage

The third stage, the Formal Operations Stage, involves adolescents beginning to incorporate abstract thinking into their learning.

The formal operations stage is tied in with Piaget’s idea of constructivism, or that people construct their knowledge through understanding through schemas. Schemas are pieces of knowledge attained through experiences and is the way in which people understand the world around them. If people learned new information and that information never changed, no learning would take place.

Piaget also introduced the ideas of assimilation and accommodation, which is when people learn new information and change what they already know by assimilating new information into their preconceived notions, evolving their learning. For example, when a young toddler sees a dog for the first time and are told by their parent that it is a dog, that child now understands that a furry creature with four legs and a tail is called a dog. However, when that child sees a cat for the first time, they may call it a dog, because they have not yet assimilated their schema of knowledge that the cat is also a furry creature with four legs and a tail but is a different type of animal. Once they do this, they will have a better understanding of telling the difference between a dog and a cat.


Piaget explored the idea that children and adolescents are self-centered beings and therefore view themselves as the center of their own universes. He believed that egocentrism was a normal behavior for children to demonstrate in the early years of their development. As children grow older and their metacognitive abilities become more assimilated to their knowledge base and they slowly adopt the ability to take on the perspectives of those around them. Some characteristics of an egocentric individual would be believing they are unique from everyone else therefore making them special, feelings of superiority over others around them, and having difficulty seeing another’s point of view. Typically, adolescents grow out of this stage around age 15 or 16 but can re-emerge during later stages when an individual is placed in a situation in which they are unfamiliar with, such as going to college for the first time.

Elements of Egocentrism

Two elements of egocentrism include imaginary audience and personal fable. Imaginary audience is when children and adolescents believe those around them spend most of their time and attention on them. An example of this would be when an adolescent is walking through a crowded place and believes everyone is looking at them or thinking about them, when in reality, no one really cares what they are doing in that exact moment.

The second element is called personal fable, which is when they hold the belief that they are extraordinary and special beings, different from those around them. Quite often, adolescents hold the belief that they are invincible and are more likely to engage in dangerous activities such as drinking and driving, drug use, and other risky behaviors. Typically, egocentrism begins to dissolve towards the end of adolescence due to social experiences shaping the way they attain knowledge of the world.

Research Studies

Marwaha, Goswami, and Vashist (2017) examined two aspects of egocentrism in children who were in the pre-operational stage of development based on Piaget’s cognitive theory, perceptual egocentrism and cognitive egocentrism, and compared it to their IQs. During the test of measuring perceptual egocentrism, a child and facilitator sat across from one another at a table. The facilitator presented two different toys to the child, then placed an object in between the two toys, still allowing for the child to see both of the toys. The facilitator then asked the child if they could still see the toy, when the child responded, “yes”, the facilitator then asked the child if the two toys were able to see each other, and the child answered affirmatively. Because the child could not take on the perspective of the toys, they could not express their understanding that the two toys were in fact unable to see one another, due to the obstruction placed in between the two toys.

During the test of measuring cognitive egocentrism, the facilitator presented three different kinds of stickers to the child and asked them to state which was their favorite and which one was their least favorite. The facilitator then introduced to the child a mean monkey, who was known for taking away the child’s favorite sticker but would ask first. They also explained to the child that the mean monkey was not aware of which sticker was the child’s favorite and would ask the child prior to taking it. The facilitator then instructed the child to save their favorite sticker. After the rules had been explained to the child, the experiment was conducted and if the child was unable to save their favorite sticker from the mean monkey, it would be concluded that they did possess cognitive egocentrism. If they were able to trick the mean monkey into not taking their favorite sticker, they concluded that they did not possess cognitive egocentrism because they possessed the ability to change their perspective to that of the mean monkey’s and deceive it for their personal gain.

The results of the study showed that perceptual egocentrism was more prevalent in children who were in the 4-5 age group. According to Piaget, once children reach adolescence, they grow out of this stage as they gain social experience and slowly begin to understand that not everyone shares the same viewpoint that they do. As for the results of measuring cognitive egocentrism, there was no significant difference in the prevalence of cognitive egocentrism among the studied age groups. They ultimately discovered that children with a higher prevalence of perceptual and cognitive egocentrism had higher IQs than those who showed no prevalence of either types of egocentrism.

In another study, a researcher (Hanna) discussed the increased mortality rates in adolescence correlated with their egocentric behaviors. She expressed how adolescents tended to engage in more dangerous and risky behavior than their counterparts due to their beliefs that they were invincible and proposed that one way to stop adolescents from believing this was to confront them with the reality that death is a part of life and will eventually happen to everyone. She also proposed that adolescents should face their fears through teaching them to focus on death in an effort to eliminate their beliefs that they are safe from death. One example of doing this was for them to practice writing their own obituaries. The elements of personal fable and imaginary audience are highly prevalent when evaluating the egocentric behaviors of adolescents. Which can quickly evolve into adolescent narcissism, which Hanna claims is attributed to adolescent’s attempts to hide their vulnerability and feelings of fear of failure through deflection and narcissistic behaviors such as sarcasm, vanity, and disregarding attitude.

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development laid the framework for other theories and discoveries in the field of child and adolescent cognitive development. Egocentrism was one major aspect of cognitive development in children and adolescents alike that involved individuals’ inability to take on the perspectives of those around them. This provides insight and explanation as to why children and adolescents can appear to be self- centered and narcissistic, as it is a part of their development. As children and adolescents grow older, they grow out of this stage, through assimilating and accommodating the schemas within their mental framework with experiences and interactions that better enable them in understanding the world around them.

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