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Egocentric Thinking

Egocentric thinking, then, results from the fact that humans do not naturally consider the rights and needs of others, nor do we naturally appreciate the point of view of others or the limitations in our own point of view. Humans become explicitly aware of our egocentric thinking only if specially trained to do so. We do not naturally recognize our egocentric assumptions, the egocentric way we use information, the egocentric way we interpret data, the source of our egocentric concepts and ideas, and the implications of our egocentric thought. We do not naturally recognize our self-serving perspective.

Humans live with the unrealistic but confident sense that we have fundamentally figured out the way things actually are, and that we have done this objectively. We naturally believe in our intuitive perceptions—however inaccurate they may be. Instead of using intellectual standards in thinking, humans often use self-centered psychological standards to determine what to believe and what to reject. Here are the most commonly used psychological standards in human thinking:

  • "It's true because I believe it." Innate egocentrism: I assume that what I believe is true even though I have never questioned the basis for many of my beliefs.

  • "It's true because we believe it." Innate socio-centrism: I assume that the dominant beliefs within the groups to which I belong are true even though I have never questioned the basis for many of these beliefs.

  • "It's true because I want to believe it." Innate wish fulfillment: I believe in, for example, accounts of behavior that put me (or the groups to which I belong) in a positive rather than a negative light even though I have not seriously considered the evidence for the more negative account. I believe what "feels good," what supports my other beliefs, what does not require me to change my thinking is any significant way, what does not require me to admit I have been wrong.

  • "It's true because I have always believed it." Innate self-validation: I have a strong desire to maintain beliefs that I have long held, even though I have not seriously considered the extent to which those beliefs are justified, given the evidence.

  • "It's true because it is in my selfish interest to believe it." Innate selfishness: I hold fast to beliefs that justify my getting more power, money, or personal advantage even though these beliefs are not grounded in sound reasoning or evidence.

Test the Idea
Identifying Some of Your Irrational Tendencies

Using the above categories of irrational beliefs as a guide, identify at least one belief you hold in each of the categories:

  1. It's true because I believe it.

  2. It's true because my group believes it.

  3. It's true because I want to believe it.

  4. It's true because I have always believed it.

  5. It's true because it is in my selfish interest to believe it.

On a scale of 1–10 (10 equating with "highly irrational" and 1 with "highly rational"), where would you place yourself? Why?

If humans are naturally prone to assess thinking in keeping with the above criteria, it is not surprising that we, as a species, have not developed a significant interest in establishing and fostering legitimate intellectual standards. There are too many domains of our thinking that we, collectively, do not want to have questioned. We have too many prejudices that we do not want to be challenged. We are committed to having our selfish interests served. We are not typically concerned with protecting the rights of others. We are not typically willing to sacrifice our desires to meet someone else's basic needs. We do not want to discover that beliefs we have taken to be obvious and sacred might not be either. We will ignore any number of basic principles if doing so enables us to maintain our power or to gain more power and advantage.

Fortunately, humans are not always guided by egocentric thinking. Within each person are, metaphorically speaking, two potential minds: One emerges from innate egocentric, self-serving tendencies, and the other emerges from cultivated rational, higher-order capacities (if cultivated).

We begin this chapter by focusing on the problem of egocentric tendencies in human life (Figure 10.1). We then contrast this defective mode of thinking with its opposite: rational or reasonable thinking. We explore what it means to use our minds to create rational beliefs, emotions, and values—in contrast to egocentric ones. We then focus on two distinct manifestations of egocentric thinking: dominating and submissive behavior.

Figure 10.1. The logic of egocentrism.

graphics/10fig01.gif

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