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Understanding Egocentrism as a Mind Within the Mind

Egocentric thinking functions subconsciously, like a mind within us that we deny we have. No one says, "I think I will think egocentrically for a while." Its ultimate goals are gratification and self-validation (Figure 10.2). It does not respect the rights and needs of others—though it may be protective of those with whom it ego-identifies. When we are thinking egocentrically, we see ourselves as right and just. We see those who disagree with us as wrong and unjustified.

Figure 10.2. This figure shows the two fundamental motives behind egocentric thinking.


Our family, our children, our country, our religion, our beliefs, our feelings, our values are all specially privileged in our egocentric mind. Our validation is crucial to us, and we seek it even if we have been unfair to others or irresponsibly harmed them in a flagrant way. We are interested only in facts we can twist to support us. We dislike or fear people who point out our inconsistencies. If we criticize ourselves, it is not the occasion for significantly changing our behavior but, rather, the means of avoiding such change. For example, if I say, "I know I have a short fuse, but I can't help it. I lose my temper just like my father did!" My criticism justifies my continuing to lose my temper.

One of the ways we use egocentric thinking, then, is to validate our current belief system. When we feel internally validated, we live comfortably with ourselves even if what we are doing is actually unethical. For example, if I am brought up to believe that people of a certain race are inferior, my egocentric thinking enables me to maintain all of the following beliefs: 1) I am not prejudiced (they simply are inferior); 2) I judge each person I meet on his or her own merits; 3) I am an open-minded person.

With these beliefs operating in my thinking, I do not see myself as jumping to conclusions about members of this race. I do not think of myself as wronging them in any way. I see myself as simply recognizing them for what they are. Though I ignore the evidence that demonstrates the falsity of what I believe, I do not see myself ignoring the evidence. I do not think of myself as a racist, for being a racist is bad, and I am not bad.

Only when we explicitly develop our ability to rationally analyze ourselves can we begin to see these tendencies in ourselves. When we do, it is almost never at the precise moments when our egocentric mind is in control. Once egocentric thinking begins to take control, it spontaneously rationalizes and deceives itself into believing that its position is the only justifiable position. It sees itself as experiencing the truth, no matter how inaccurate a picture of things it is painting. This skilled deceiving of self effectively blocks reasonable thoughts from correcting distorted ones. And the more highly self-deceived we are, the less likely we are to recognize our irrationality, the less likely we are to consider relevant information that our egocentricity is blocking from our view, and the less motivated we are to develop truly rational beliefs and views.

Test the Idea
Discovering Prejudices in Your Beliefs

As egocentric thinkers, we see ourselves as possessing the truth. At the same time, we form many beliefs without the evidence to justify them. We form many prejudices (judgments before the evidence). If this is true, we should be able to begin to unearth some of our prejudices, using our rational capacity. In an attempt to begin this process, complete the following statements:

  1. One of the prejudices I have is… (Think of generalizations you tend to make even though you don't have the evidence to justify them. They can be about anything you please: a religion, atheists, men, women, homosexuals, heterosexuals, and so on. Put your prejudice in this form: All x are y, as in all women are ??, or all men are ??.)

  2. A more rational belief with which I should replace this faulty belief is…

  3. If I use this new belief in my thinking, my behavior would change in the following ways…

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