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In this lesson, we define egocentric speech and take a look at its role in child development. We also compare Piaget and Vygotsky’s viewpoints on egocentric speech.

Definition

According to the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, children between the ages of three and five go through a stage called egocentrism. The term egocentrism refers to a child’s inability to understand another person’s point of view; in other words, he or she believes that other children feel, think, and experience life as they do.

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In many cases, children also take part in egocentric speech. Egocentric speech involves a child talking to him or herself for self-guidance, usually through an activity.For example, a four-year-old girl may say things aloud when playing on her own or explain what she is doing, as if she was talking to someone.

If playing with a doll, she might say something like: ‘Now I am going to take you to the table.’ If stacking blocks, the four-year-old may say: ‘See, I’m putting one block on this one.’Both Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist and the father of cultural-historical psychology, had similar ideas about the cognitive and social development of children. However, when it came to egocentric speech in children, they had very different views.

Piaget’s View

Piaget was the first in his field to coin the term ‘egocentric speech’ in relation to the egocentric stage of child development, which he shared in his 1923 book, The Language and Thought of the Child. In Piaget’s opinion, children weren’t born with the ability to relate to others, but instead focused solely on themselves.

Piaget believed that when children talked to themselves, they did it for self-centered purposes and without taking others and their thoughts into consideration. According to Piaget, because children don’t really communicate with peers, they resort to talking to themselves. As described by Piaget, egocentric speech is associated with immaturity, a sign that a child is at the point in his or her development where he or she has not yet learned how to interact with others. Therefore, the tendency towards egocentric speech would fade away as the child increased in maturity.

Vygotsky’s View

While Piaget viewed egocentric speech as an unimportant act used for self-centered purposes, Vygotsky viewed it as a key part of the social learning process. In his 1934 book, Thought and Language, Vygotsky discussed egocentric speech not as a shortcoming, but as a healthy part of development.

In contrast to Piaget, he believed that children were born social creatures that are continuously learning how to relate to others.Vygotsky differed from Piaget in that he considered egocentric speech a natural part of the childhood growth and maturation process. According to Vygotsky, because children didn’t know how to internalize their thoughts, they learned how to handle them through egocentric speech. He also believed that egocentric speech was a normal part of communication development, through which children practiced self-guidance and self-regulation.

Lesson Summary

Egocentric speech is the act of a child talking to himself or herself, usually through an event or activity.

Egocentric speech is related to the egocentric stage of development, in which children can’t understand the experiences, feelings, and thoughts of their peers.Egocentric speech typically occurs between the ages of three and five. Two psychologists who specialized in child development had different views of egocentric speech. Jean Piaget saw egocentric speech as a sign a child still needed to develop language and social skills.

Lev Vygotsky argued that egocentric speech was, in itself, a normal and healthy part of child development.

Learning Outcomes

Following this video lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define egocentric speech
  • Describe the egocentric stage of development
  • Differentiate between Jean Piaget’s and Lev Vygotsky’s views on egocentric speech

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