Piaget claimed that during the preoperational stage children cannot think logically or understand the concept of conservation (i.e., that the amount of a substance remains the same despite changes in its form). They also lack the ability to mentally reverse a sequence of events.


For the engineering term, see Centralization (engineering).

In psychology, centralization it is the tendency to focus on one salient aspect of a situation and neglect other potentially relevant aspects. Presented by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget through their cognitive development stage theoryCentering is a behavior often demonstrated in pre-operational stage. Piaget stated that self-centeredness, a common element responsible for the unsystematic thinking of preoperational children, was causal for centering. Research on centralization was done primarily by Piaget, demonstrated through his conservation tasks, while contemporary researchers have expanded on his ideas.

Conservation Tasks

Piaget used a series of tasks to test children’s scientific thinking and reasoning, many of which specifically tested conservation. Conservation refers to the ability to determine that a certain amount will remain the same despite the container’s fit, shape, or apparent size. Other conservation tasks include conservation of number, substance, weight, volume, and length.

Perhaps the most famous task indicative of centralization is the task of conserving liquids. In one version, the child is shown two glasses, A1 and A2, filled to the same height. The child is asked if the two glasses contain the same amount of liquid, in which the child almost always agrees that they do. Next, the experimenter pours the liquid from A2 into cup P, which is lower and wider. The child is then asked if the amount of liquid is still the same. In the preoperative period, the child will answer that the amount is not the same, either with the taller glass or with the wider glass containing more liquid. Once the child has reached the concrete operational stage, however, he will conclude that the amount of fluid is still the same.

Here, centering is demonstrated in the fact that the child pays attention to one aspect of the liquid, either in height or width, and is unable to retain it because of it. With the completion of the concrete operational stage, the child is able to reason about the two dimensions simultaneously and recognize that a change in one dimension cancels out a change in the other.

In the conservation of numbers task, Piaget gave children a row of eggs and a bunch of eggs, placing them in rows of equal length but not equal numbers. Piaget then asked the children to get just enough eggs to fill the cups, and when the children tried to do this, they were surprised to find that they had either too many or too few eggs. Again, centering is present here, where the child pays attention to the length of the rows and not the numbers within each row.

The children demonstrated conservation of weight and length through a similar task. In this, children were shown two balls of play dough of equal size. When asked if they were the same or not, all children answered yes. Then Piaget wrapped one of the balls in a longer string and asked the same question: “Which one is bigger?” The kids who focused focused on the length of the new Playdoh, or the width of the old Playdoh, and would often say that one or the other was bigger. Children who were able to focus on both dimensions, length and width, were able to say that both pieces of play-doh were still the same size.


Piaget believed that, at each developmental period, a deficit in cognitive thinking could be attributed to the concept of self-centeredness. Egocentrism, then, refers to the inability to distinguish one’s own perspective from that of others, but it does not necessarily imply selfishness or conceit. In speech, children are self-centered when they consider matters only from their own perspective. For example, a self-absorbed boy might want to buy his mother a toy car for her birthday. This would not be a selfish act, as he would be giving her a present, but it would be an action that would not take into account the fact that the mother might not like the car. The child would assume that his mother was thinking the same thing as him and therefore would love to receive a toy car as a gift. Animism – the attribution of life to physical objects – also stems from egocentrism; the kids have assumed that everything works just like they do. As long as children are self-centered, they fail to appreciate the extent to which each person has subjective and private experiences. In terms of moral reasoning, young children consider rules from one perspective, as absolutes handed down by adults or authority figures. Just as the self-centered child sees things from a single perspective, the child who fails to conserve focuses on only one aspect of the problem. For example, when water is poured from a glass into a smaller, wider one, the child ‘centers’ on a single striking dimension – the difference in height. The child cannot “off center” and consider two aspects of the situation at the same time. Centering, essentially, can be seen as a form of self-centeredness in specific tasks that involve scientific reasoning.


Although centering is a general tendency for children in many cognitive tasks, perseverance, on the other hand, is overcentration. Perseverance can be defined as the continual repetition of a particular response (such as a word, phrase, or gesture) despite the absence or cessation of a stimulus. It is usually caused by brain injury or another organic disorder. In a broader sense, perseveration is used to describe a wide range of dysfunctional behaviors that arise from a failure of the brain to inhibit prepotent responses or allow its usual progression to different behavior. This includes disability in set change and task switching in social and other contexts.

Perseverance and centering are connected, as centering is the basis of perseverance, but perseverance itself is seen as a symptom of damage. Where perseverance is more of an issue when seen in adults, centering is a deficit in children’s thinking that can be more easily overcome through typical developmental gains.


Children usually achieve fluid conservation around age 7. When they do, they are entering the phase of concrete operations. Overcoming centering can be seen in three main ways. First, the child can use the identity argument – ​​that you haven’t added or taken anything away, so it has to be the same. Second, the compensation argument can be used, when the child claims that the height of one cup and the width of the other cup cancel each other out. Third, an inversion reasoning is possible, where the child can suggest that they are still the same because you can pour water from the wide glass back into the tall glass to create two equal mirrors again. Underlying these arguments are logical operations – mental actions that are reversible. Since these are mental actions, the child need not actually perform or have seen the transformations he is talking about.

Piaget argued that children spontaneously master centering and conservation. The crucial moment occurs when the child is in a state of internal contradiction. This is shown when the child first says that one cup has more because it is taller than the other says that it has more because it is wider, and then becomes confused. Once this internal contradiction is resolved by the child himself, taking into account the multiple aspects of the problem, he decenters himself and moves on to the concrete operational stage.

Multitasking, view through cognitive flexibility and change of scenery, requires decentralization so that attention can be diverted between several salient objects or situations. In addition, decentration is essential for reading and math skills as children move beyond individual letters and presented words and meanings.

Other research

As shown earlier, the aspect of quantitative understanding that most interested Piaget was the child’s ability to conserve quantities in the face of perceptual change. Later scholarship has not refuted Piaget’s claim that a complete understanding of conservation is a concrete operational achievement. Recent work suggests, however, that there may be earlier, partial forms of understanding that have been lost in their studies.

Investigators have simplified conservation tasks in several ways. They reduced the usual verbal demands, for example, allowing the child to choose sweets to eat or juice to drink, instead of answering questions about “the same” or “more”. Or they made the context of the question more natural and familiar by incorporating the task into an ongoing game. Although such changes do not completely eliminate the non-conservation error, they often result in better performance of supposedly preoperative 4- and 5-year-olds. In fact, in simple situations, even 3-year-olds can demonstrate some knowledge of number invariance. A study by Rochel Gelman provides a good example. In their study, 3-year-old participants first played a game in which they learned, over a series of trials, that a plate with three toy mice attached was a “winner” and a plate with two toy mice was a winner. a “failure.” So, in a critical test, the plate of three mice was secretly transformed while hidden. In some cases, the length of the line was changed; in other cases, one of the mice was removed. The children didn’t mind with the change in length, continuing to treat the plate was a winner. An actual change in number, however, was responded to quite differently, eliciting searching behaviors and various attempts at explanation. The children thus showed a recognition of that the number, at least in this situation, must remain invariant.

It should be noted, however, that the very studies purporting to show prior competence in conservation tasks have been criticised. In particular, these criticisms suggest that methodological changes in studies of early competence may influence younger children to conserve due to lower-level mechanisms. Children’s completion of these tasks, therefore, may be due more to perceptual mechanisms than to cognitive mechanisms of true conservation and understanding of invariance. Thus, children may simply be discriminatingly sensitive to deleting or adding information, rather than retaining information across changes in the display.

See too


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