Adolescent Egocentrism: A Contemporary View

Article excerpt

Elkind (1967) defined adolescent egocentrism to include the imaginary audience (i.e., adolescents' belief that those around them are as concerned and focused on their appearance as they themselves are) and the personal fable (i.e., the belief that the individual is special, unique, and invulnerable to harm). In Elkind's original conceptualization, these constructs were thought to emerge in early adolescence and then decline in middle adolescence (ages 15-16).

Past research has supported the earlier conceptualization that adolescent egocentrism peaks in early adolescence and then begins to decline (Elkind & Bowen, 1979). The implications of egocentrism during adolescence have been previously discussed in terms of educational settings (Muuss, 1982) and other "pressured" situations (Tice, Buder, & Baumeister, 1985). It was also noted early on that adolescent egocentrism is most certainly not born of a single dimension, but is a multi-faceted aspect of development, with different pieces being expressed at different times during the adolescent period (Muuss, 1982).

Given that many variables related to adolescent behavior may be dependent upon societal and historical conditions and the fact that imaginary audience and personable fable are mentioned in literally every contemporary text on adolescence (Vartanian, 2000), we decided to revisit these constructs almost 40 years after the initial conceptualization. We hypothesized that both imaginary audience and personal fable would decrease with increasing age from early to late adolescence.

METHOD

Participants

The sample of 2,390 adolescents included 1,211 females and 1,179 males (M = 15.15 years, SD = 2.61 years) from 16 public middle schools, junior high schools, high schools, and three colleges (two private, one public). The school districts were chosen to represent inner city, suburban, and rural adolescent populations to provide a reasonable cross-section of the spectrum of socioeconomic strata of adolescent populations.

Materials

In an effort to measure these constructs as they were first envisioned, imaginary audience was measured using Elkind and Bowen's (1979) Imaginary Audience Scale (IAS). The IAS includes 12 items, in which adolescents consider their feelings about situations in which others may observe their appearance. The IAS consists of two subscales--the transient self and the abiding self. The transient self specifically measures adolescents' responses to potentially embarrassing situations (e.g., " ... you notice a grease spot on your trousers or skirt. There is no way to borrow clothes from anyone" (Elkind & Bowen 1979, p. 40), while the abiding self measures adolescents' responses to situations in which personal information would be revealed (e.g., If you were asked to get up in front of the class and talk about your hobby" Elkind & Bowen, 1979, p. 40).

The personal fable was measured using Elkind's Personal Fable (PF) scale (D. Elkind, personal communication, July 11, 2003). The PF scale asked students to rate how true each statement was for them on a five-point Likert scale (1 = never true for me and 5 = always true for me). The PF scale also included two subscales--invulnerability and speciality. The invulnerability scale measures the degree to which adolescents believe they are immune from harm or injury (e.g., "Some kids don't worry about getting injured when they play sports"). The speciality scale measures the degree to which adolescents believe themselves to be unique from all others (e.g., "Even though other kids, besides me, got As on their papers, I feel that the teacher liked mine best"). In addition to their responses on the IAS and PF scales, students also reported sex and age (D. Elkind, personal communication, July 11, 2003).

Procedure

All participants provided informed consent orally, and were allowed to refuse answering any part or all of the questionnaires if they so chose. …