Not to be confused with Narcissism.
Egocentrism is the inability to differentiate between self and other. More specifically, it is the inability to untangle subjective schemas from objective reality; an inability to understand or assume any perspective other than their own.
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. Both egotists and narcissists are people whose egos are greatly influenced by the approval of others, while for egocentrists this may or may not be true.
Although egocentric behaviors are less prominent in adulthood, the existence of some forms of egocentrism in adulthood indicates that overcoming egocentrism may be a lifelong development that never achieves completion. Adults appear to be less egocentric than children because they are faster to correct from an initially egocentric perspective than children, not because they are less likely to initially adopt an egocentric perspective.
Therefore, egocentrism is found across the life span: in infancy early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. It contributes to the human cognitive development by helping children develop theory of mind and self-identity formation.
The main concept infants and young children learn by beginning to show egocentrism is the fact that their thoughts, values, and behaviors are different from those of others, also known as the theory of mind. Initially when children begin to have social interactions with others, mainly the caregivers, they misinterpret that they are one entity, because they are together for a long duration of time and the caregivers often provide for the children's needs. For example, a child may misattribute the act of their mother reaching to retrieve an object that they point to as a sign that they are the same entity, when in fact they are actually separate individuals. As early as 15 months old, children show a mix of egocentrism and theory of mind when an agent acts inconsistently with how the children expect him to behave. In this study the children observed the experimenter place a toy inside one of two boxes, but did not see when the experimenter removed the toy from the original box and placed it in the other box, due to obstruction by a screen. When the screen was removed the children watched the experimenter reach to take the toy out of one of the boxes, yet because the children did not see the switching part, they looked at the experimenter's action much longer when she reached for the box opposite to the one she originally put the toy in. Not only does this show the existence of infants' memory capacity, but it also demonstrates how they have expectations based on their knowledge, as they are surprised when those expectations are not met.
According to George Butterworth and Margaret Harris, during childhood, one is usually unable to distinguish between what is subjective and objective. According to Piaget, "an egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear, and feel exactly the same as the child does."[unreliable source?]
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." 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." 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. 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. 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. However, Vygotsky felt that egocentric speech has more meaning, as it allows the child's growth in social speech and high mental development. 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.
Piaget also believed that egocentrism affects the child's sense of morality. 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. 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. 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.
In addition, a more well-known experiment by Wimmer and Perner (1983) called the false-belief task demonstrates how children show their acquisition of theory of mind (ToM) as early as 4 years old. In this task, children see a scenario where one character hides a marble in a basket, walks out of the scene, and another character that is present takes out the marble and put it in a box. Knowing that the first character did not see the switching task, children were asked to predict where the first character would look to find the marble. The results show that children younger than 4 answer that the character would look inside the box, because they have the superior knowledge of where the marble actually is. It shows egocentric thinking in early childhood because they thought that even if the character itself did not see the entire scenario, it has the same amount of knowledge as oneself and therefore should look inside the box to find the marble. As children start to acquire ToM, their ability to recognize and process others' beliefs and values overrides the natural tendency to be egocentric.
Although most of the research completed on the study of egocentrism is primarily focused on early childhood development, it has been found to also occur during adolescence.David Elkind was one of the first to discover the presence of egocentrism in adolescence and late adolescence. He 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." This shows that the adolescent is exhibiting egocentrism, by struggling to distinguish whether or not, in actuality, others are as fond of them as they might think because their own thoughts are so prevalent. Adolescents consider themselves as "unique, special, and much more socially significant than they actually are."
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. In the invincibility fable, the adolescent believes in the idea that he or she is immune to misfortune and cannot be harmed by things that might defeat a normal person. 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:
- Adolescents are often faced with new social environments (for example, starting secondary school) which require the adolescent to protect the self which may lead to egocentrism.
- Development of the adolescent's identity may lead to the individual experiencing high levels of uniqueness which subsequently becomes egocentric – this manifests as the personal fable.
- Parental rejection may lead to the adolescents experiencing high levels of self-consciousness, which can lead to 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. 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. Egocentrism is especially dominant in early adolescence, particularly when adolescents encounter new environments, such as a new school or a new peer group.
In addition, throughout adolescence egocentrism contribute to the development of self-identity; in order to achieve self-identity, adolescents go through different pathways of "crisis" and "commitment" stages, and higher self-identity achievement was found to be correlated with heightened egocentrism.
The prevalence of egocentrism in the individual has been found to decrease between the ages of 15 and 16. However, adults are also susceptible to be egocentric or to have reactions or behaviours that can be categorized as egocentric (Tesch, Whitbourne & Nehrke, 1978).
Frankenberger tested adolescents (14–18 years old) and adults (20–89) on their levels of egocentrism and self-consciousness. It was found that egocentric tendencies had extended to early adulthood and 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. They tested adults between the ages of 18 and 25 and found that the participants who suffered from depression showed higher levels of egocentrism than those who did not.
Finally, Surtees and Apperly found that when adults were asked to judge the number of dots they see and the number of dots the avatar in the computer simulation sees, the presence of the avatar interfered with the participants' judgment-making during the trials. Specifically, these were the trials where the number of dots seen by the participant was inconsistent from the number of dots the avatar saw. Such effect on the participants diminished when the avatar was replaced with a simple yellow or blue line, which concluded that somehow the avatar having a personal attribute implicitly caused the participants to include its "vision" into their own decision making. That said, they made more errors when they saw prompts such as "the avatar sees N" when N was the number of dots the participant saw and not the avatar, which shows that egocentric thought is still predominant in making quick judgments, even if the adults are well aware that their thoughts could differ from others.
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|Look up egocentrism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
Saul McLeod published 2009, updated 2014
The preoperational stage is the second stage in Piaget's theory of cognitive development. This stage begins around age two and last until approximately age seven. During this stage, the child learns to use the symbols of language.
The child's thinking during this stage is pre (before) operations. This means the child cannot use logic or transform, combine or separate ideas (Piaget, 1951, 1952).
The child's development consists of building experiences about the world through adaptation and working towards the (concrete) stage when it can use logical thought. During the end of this stage children can mentally represent events and objects (the semiotic function), and engage in symbolic play.
The key features of the preoperational stage include:
This is the tendency to focus on only one aspect of a situation at one time. When a child can focus on more than one aspect of a situation at the same time they have the ability to decenter.
During this stage children have difficulties thinking about more than one aspect of any situation at the same time; and they have trouble decentering in social situation just as they do in non-social contexts.
Childrens' thoughts and communications are typically egocentric (i.e. about themselves). Egocentrism refers to the child's inability to see a situation from another person's point of view.
According to Piaget, the egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear, and feel exactly the same as the child does.
At the beginning of this stage you often find children engaging in parallel play. That is to say they often play in the same room as other children but they play next to others rather than with them.
Each child is absorbed in its own private world and speech is egocentric. That is to say the main function of speech at this stage is to externalize the child’s thinking rather than to communicate with others.
As yet the child has not grasped the social function of either language or rules.
This is the ability to make one thing - a word or an object - stand for something other than itself. Language is perhaps the most obvious form of symbolism that young children display.
However, Piaget (1951) argues that language does not facilitate cognitive development, but merely reflects what the child already knows and contributes little to new knowledge. He believed cognitive development promotes language development, not vice versa.
Pretend (or symbolic) Play
Toddlers often pretend to be people they are not (e.g. superheroes, policeman), and may play these roles with props that symbolize real life objects. Children may also invent an imaginary playmate.
'In symbolic play, young children advance upon their cognitions about people, objects and actions and in this way construct increasingly sophisticated representations of the world' (Bornstein, 1996, p. 293).
As the pre-operational stage develops egocentrism declines and children begin to enjoy the participation of another child in their games and “lets pretend “ play becomes more important.
For this to work there is going to be a need for some way of regulating each child’s relations with the other and out of this need we see the beginnings of an orientation to others in terms of rules.
This is the belief that inanimate objects (such as toys and teddy bears) have human feelings and intentions. By animism Piaget (1929) meant that for the pre-operational child the world of nature is alive, conscious and has a purpose.
Piaget has identified four stages of animism:
- Up to the ages 4 or 5 years, the child believes that almost everything is alive and has a purpose.
- During the second stage (5-7 years) only objects that move have a purpose.
- In the next stage (7-9 years), only objects that move spontaneously are thought to be alive.
- In the last stage (9-12 years), the child understands that only plants and animals are alive.
This is the belief that certain aspects of the environment are manufactured by people (e.g. clouds in the sky).
This is the inability the reverse the direction of a sequence of events to their starting point.
The Three Mountains Task
Jean Piaget used the three mountains task (see picture below) to test whether children were egocentric. Egocentric children assume that other people will see the same view of the three mountains as they do.
According to Piaget, at age 7 thinking is no longer egocentric, as the child can see more than their own point of view.
Aim: Piaget and Inhelder (1956) wanted to find out at what age children decenter - i.e. become no longer egocentric.
Method: The child sits at a table, presented in front are three mountains. The mountains were different, with snow on top of one, a hut on another and a red cross on top of the other. The child was allowed to walk round the model, to look at it, then sit down at one side. A doll is then placed at various positions of the table.
The child is then shown 10 photographs of the mountains taken from different positions, and asked to indicate which showed the dolls view. Piaget assumed that if the child correctly picked out the card showing the doll's view, s/he was not egocentric. Egocentrism would be shown by the child who picked out the card showing the view s/he saw.
Findings - Four year-olds almost always chose a picture that represented what they could see and showed no awareness that the doll’s view would be different from this. Six year-olds frequently chose a picture different from their own view but rarely chose the correct picture for the doll’s point of view. Only seven- and eight-year-olds consistently chose the correct picture.
Conclusion - At age 7, thinking is no longer egocentric as the child can see more than their own point of view.
Evaluation: Policeman Doll Study
Martin Hughes (1975) argued that the three mountains task did not make sense to children and was made more difficult because the children had to match the doll's view with a photograph.
Hughes devised a task which made sense to the child. He showed children a model comprising two intersecting walls, a 'boy' doll and a 'policeman' doll. He then placed the policeman doll in various positions and asked the child to hide the boy doll from the policeman.
Hughes did this to make sure that the child understood what was being asked of him, so if s/he made mistakes they were explained and the child tried again. Interestingly, very few mistakes were made.
The experiment then began. Hughes brought in a second policeman doll, and placed both dolls at the end of two walls, as shown in the illustration above.
The child was asked to hide the boy from both policemen, in other words he had to take account of two different points of view.
Hughes' sample comprised children between three and a half and five years of age, of whom 90 per cent gave correct answers. Even when he devised a more complex situation, with more walls and a third policeman, 90 per cent of four-year-olds were successful.
This shows that children have largely lost their egocentric thinking by four years of age, because they are able to take the view of another. Hughes' experiment allowed them to demonstrate this because the task made sense to the child, whereas Piaget's did not.
Evaluation: The ‘Turntable’ Task
In Borke’s (1975) test of egocentrism the child is given two identical models of a three-dimensional scene (several different scenes were used including different arrangements of toy people and animals and a mountain model similar to Piaget and Inhelder’s). One of the models is mounted on a turntable so it can easily be turned by the child.
After a practice session where the child is familiarized with the materials and the idea of looking at things from another person’s point of view, a doll is introduced (in Borke’s study it was the character Grover from ‘Sesame Street’, a programme the children were familiar with).
The Grover doll was placed so it was ‘looking’ at the model from a particular vantage point and the child was invited to turn the other model around until its view of the model matched what Grover would be able to see.
Borke (1975) found, using the ‘mountains’ model three-year-olds selected a correct view 42% of the time and four-year-olds selected the right view 67% of the time. With other displays, the threeyears-olds’ accuracy increased to 80% and the four-year olds’ to 93%.
Limitations in the Child's Thinking
Piaget focused most of the description of this stage on limitations in the child's thinking, identifying a number of mental tasks which children seem unable to do.These include the inability to decenter, conserve, understand seriation (the inability to understand that objects can be organized into a logical series or order) and to carry out inclusion tasks.
Children in the preoperational stage are able to focus on only one aspect or dimension of problems (i.e. centration). For example, suppose you arrange two rows of blocks in such a way that a row of 5 blocks is longer than a row of 7 blocks.
Preoperational children can generally count the blocks in each row and tell you the number contained in each. However, if you ask which row has more, they will likely say that it is the one that makes the longer line, because they cannot simultaneously focus on both the length and the number. This inability to decenter contributes to the preoperational child's egocentrism.
Conservation is the understanding that something stays the same in quantity even though its appearance changes. To be more technical, conservation is the ability to understand that redistributing material does not affect its mass, number or volume. The ability to solve this and other "conservation" problems signals the transition to the next stage.
So, what do these tasks tell us about the limitations of preoperational thought in general?
Piaget drew a number of related conclusions:
1) Understanding of these situations is 'perception bound'. The child is drawn by changes in the appearance of the materials to conclude that a change has occurred.
2) Thinking is 'centered' on one aspect of the situation. Children notice changes in the level of water or in the length of clay without noticing that other aspects of the situation have changed simultaneously.
3) Thinking is focused on states rather than on transformations. Children fail to track what has happened to materials and simply make an intuitive judgment based on how they appear 'now'.
4) Thinking is 'irreversible' in that the child cannot appreciate that a reverse transformation would return the material to its original state. Reversibility is a crucial aspect of the logical (operational) thought of later stages.
Borke, H. (1975). Piaget's mountains revisited: Changes in the egocentric landscape. Developmental Psychology, 11(2), 240.
Piaget, J. (1929). The child's concept of the world. Londres, Routldge & Kegan Paul.
Piaget, J. (1951). Egocentric thought and sociocentric thought. J. Piaget, Sociological studies, 270-286.
Piaget, J., & Cook, M. T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York, NY: International University Press.
Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. (1956). The Child's Conception of Space. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Hughes , M. (1975). Egocentrism in preschool children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Edinburgh University.
Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., & Bornstein, M. H. (1996). Variations in Children's Exploratory, Nonsymbolic, and Symbolic Play: An Explanatory Multidimensional Framework. Advances in infancy research, 10, 37-78.
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2015). Preoperational stage. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/preoperational.html