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The Differences and Similarities of Egocentrism and Ethnocentrism



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Every person sees the world through a unique perspective. He or she is influenced by biological and environmental factors in how meaning is assigned to events and experiences. These factors combine to make the central point of individual perspective. There are two primary filters that individual perspective can pass through, self and ethnic culture. Ego-centrism indicates a person’s tendency to see through his own perspective with little or no ability to imagine the perspective of another person. This can be literal with point of view on an object or figurative in how a situation is assessed. Ethnocentrism presents a wider view than ego-centrism, but it still represents a filter because it is limited to viewing and assigning meaning to variables based on cultural experience and influence. Each filter has pros and cons associated with it, and neither can be entirely dismissed.

The primary similarity between ego- and ethno- centrism is that they are both starting points for assigning value to all that is observed by an individual. There is nothing bad about having a frame of reference for assigning value, but in each of these cases unfair biases can be used that will generate unfair or prejudicial thinking.

Ego- and ethno- centrism also share a factor of tunnel vision. In each case there is a limitation based on personal exposure. When seeing through the filter of self the individual ignores or overlooks the feelings, thoughts, and wishes of anyone else. This can be done on purpose or unconsciously. French researcher Jean Piaget found that the ability to take on another perspective wasn't found in children until age seven. Martin Hughes disputed this research with a study of his own wherein he found the ability to view from another perspective is present in a four year old.

Even with this discrepancy, it is clear that ego-centrism is present in young children and as they grow older they develop the ability to consider the point of view of another person. Ethnocentrism also takes effort and learning to grow out of. Professor Ken Barger recommended developing the ability to realize how much cultural bias affects thinking in order to minimize the use of ethnocentric thinking. These perspectives have a tendency to limit a person’s point of view and increase his use of personal or cultural biases. It is important to overcome these limitations in order to decrease misunderstanding.

In general terms ego- and ethno- centrism are very different. One filters perspective through a unique collection of experience held only by the individual. The other filters perspective through a collection of cultural factors and is shared by a larger population. Each can lead to discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice, but this is more likely in ethnocentric thinking as it pertains to larger groups. Egocentric perspectives deal more with the inability to see someone else’s point of view and less with assumption of value on another point of view.

Understanding personal perspective is useful for helping an individual identify a bias and silence it. In any situation there will be a bias, if left uncontrolled it can lead to close-mindedness and misunderstanding. The ability to see beyond the egocentric point of view is a beneficial communication skill. Being able to understand and perceive meaning of scenarios from without the ethnocentric mindset is also helpful in communication and is imperative for inter-cultural relationships. 

More about this author: Paul Brodie

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