David Myers

Artists Demonstrate Our Egocentrism

Blog Post created by David Myers Expert on May 8, 2017

“Egocentricism,” as every psychology student has read, was Jean Piaget’s description of preschoolers’ inability to take another person’s perspective. The child standing between you and the TV just can’t see your perspective.

 

And it’s not just children. As Nathan DeWall and I explain in Psychology, 11th Edition,

Even we adults may overestimate the extent to which others share our opinions and perspectives, a trait known as the curse of knowledge. We assume that something will be clear to others if it is clear to us, or that email recipients will “hear” our “just kidding” intent (Epley et al., 2004; Kruger et al., 2005). Perhaps you can recall asking someone to guess a simple tune such as “Happy Birthday” as you clapped or tapped it out. With the tune in your head, it seemed so obvious! But you suffered the egocentric curse of knowledge, by assuming that what was in your head was also in someone else’s.

 

In the May/June Scientific American Mind (alas, its last print issue), Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik describe a “Venus effect” (previously noted by University of Liverpool psychologist Marco Bertamini and his colleagues). In various art depictions, the grand masters have depicted their subjects looking toward a mirror.

Reubens' "Venus in Front of a Mirror"

Veláquez's "Rokeby Venus"                              

Many people presume that Venus, in the image above, is looking at (and admiring) herself in the mirror. If that was your surmise (as it was mine, when viewing “Rokeby Venus”), then you are not taking her perspective. Think: If you, from your viewing perspective, can see her face in the mirror, then she must see yours (not hers). It’s akin to being a backseat car passenger and seeing the driver’s face in the mirror—which tells you that the driver sees your face in the same mirror.

 

As the Venus effect reminds us, egocentricism is not just for children.

Outcomes