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Foolishness: Psychological Perspective Essay


Foolishness from a psychological perspective is defined as the inability to evaluate the situation clearly and one of the components that enable it is egocentrism. In general, foolishness and its implications are considered as a notion opposed to wisdom; therefore, self-centeredness can be viewed from the perspective of humility. However, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between intelligence and wisdom, because people who are generally perceived as wise may display particular characteristics of foolishness, which means they lack proper judgment.

The most distinct features of this issue are unrealistic optimism, insensitivity, omnipotence, and egocentrism. While, in general, foolishness is displayed through a belief that a person has unrealistically good capabilities, self-centeredness as a factor prevents one from recognizing facts and listening to other people’s opinions. Piaget first introduced this concept as a natural stage of child development in which one is convinced that his or her view of the world corresponds with that of others.

According to Piaget’s theory, this issue can be mitigated through social interaction in which a child can gain an understanding of other’s views and adjust his or her behavior (as cited in Kesselring & Müller, 2011). In general, an egocentric person is unable to understand personal limitations and, consequently, may make foolish decisions.

Researchers in the field of psychology aim to study many aspects of human behavior that enable certain habits and life choices. In this regard, foolishness is presented as an interesting concept, and the implications of it may provide an understanding of approaches to improving the cognitive skills of individuals. Wisdom and its implications is a center of interest for many researchers, while the examination of ignorance or foolishness lacks clarity.

However, one can use the conventional understanding of intelligence and apply it to the concept of foolishness to compare the two and identify distinct features of both definitions. One particular aspect of foolishness that will be reviewed in this paper is egocentrism because it affects the perception of individuals and their understanding of the world. From a psychological perspective, egocentrism prevents a person from overcoming foolishness and obtaining necessary knowledge and skills for acquiring wisdom.

Definition of Foolishness and its Connection to Egocentrism

Due to the fact that this paper aims to examine egocentrism from the perspective of foolishness, it is necessary to define this notion first. Foolishness has many definitions, depending on a perspective from which an author decides to review the issue. For instance, Cambridge Dictionary provides the following explanation of this term – “the quality of being unwise, stupid, or not showing good judgment” (Foolishness, n.d., para. 1).

Several components should be identified to understand whether behavior categorized as foolish is inborn or connected to particular aspects of development and if it can be altered. In addition, the question of what actions can be classified as foolish will be reviewed in this paper to determine approaches for identifying such behavior. The research for this paper suggests that most works in the field of psychology connected to the topic focus on wisdom and oppose foolishness to it. Therefore, it is clear that this issue requires further examination.

In this regard, one must determine whether wisdom as a quality is connected to the knowledge a particular individual obtains in school or college. This would provide a possibility to identify weather foolishness can be mitigated. The importance of distinguishing foolishness and wisdom is illustrated by Sternberg (2018), who argues that modern society is capable of raising smart individuals lacking wisdom. In the author’s regard, wisdom-based skills enable proper development of individuals, and, therefore, it is crucial to identify the components of wisdom that can improve one’s cognitive abilities. Thus, while some people may excel in their academic achievements, they can lack the essential wisdom that is necessary for living.

Sternberg (2018) provides an understanding of the fact that intelligence and foolishness should not be considered from a perspective of particular knowledge exclusively as other factors contribute to the issue in question as well.

Next, it is crucial to identify the specific features of this notion, which would help enhance the understanding of foolishness. Aczel, Palfi, and Kekecs (2015) substantiate the need to research the problem of foolishness because, according to the authors, people adjust their behavior based on their beliefs regarding intelligence and stupidity. Therefore, by identifying what particular actions are regarded as stupid and what influences such beliefs, one can adjust his or her behavior to avoid being foolish. Aczel et al. (2015) conclude that people often refer to the following actions as a depiction of foolishness –

  1. violations of maintaining a balance between confidence and abilities;
  2. failures of attention;
  3. lack of control” (p. 51).

Additionally, the study highlighted the fact that the responsibility a person has and the consequences of his or her actions can amplify the perception of others. This provides an understanding of the fact that foolishness is connected both to the intrinsic characteristics of one’s personality and particular circumstances.

Foolishness is often defined as a notion opposing to wisdom. For instance, Sternberg states that it is “extreme failure of wisdom” (as cited in Izak, 2013). The author defines five primary components of foolishness, which are unrealistic optimism, egocentrism, omniscience, omnipotence, and invulnerability, which are similar to the characteristics identified by Aczel et al. (2015) and discussed above.

Therefore, according to this author’s perspective a foolish person typically believes in his or her capabilities in regards to their knowledge and skills, they focus primarily on themselves and their needs, and they think they can accomplish anything without viewing events realistically. Additionally, Solansky (2013) argues that, for many people, the fear of being perceived as foolish serves as a motivator to become better at something. However, egocentrism, which is discussed in this paper, can impair one’s ability to understand personal qualities, thus, not letting one to improve cognitive skills.

The Origins of Foolishness and Egocentrism

One should consider previous works, both scientific and fictional, that depict foolish behavior to determine why the issue arises. According to Mulligan (2014), the question of wisdom and lack of it has been discussed by philosophers for centuries. For instance, Socrates argued that being aware of personal limitations is the real wisdom. This claim is connected to egocentrism because the nature of it makes one unable to identify the areas of knowledge where improvements can be made.

In regards to egocentrism, the first psychologist that examined the issue in depth was Piaget. The author was generally interested in childhood development and his work published in the 1920s described egocentrism as one of the stages (Mulligan, 2014). In general, considering Piaget’s studies, egocentrism is not an issue in kids since adults who do not develop mechanisms of understanding others may acquire other characteristics of foolishness.

Foolishness, Egocentrism, and Wisdom

Many researchers define foolishness as something connected to wisdom, which is referred to as the imbalance theory. Sternberg (2018) states that, in this regard, it is crucial to distinguish between intelligence and sense, because, in most cases, people refer to foolish actions as such when comparing them to acts of wise individuals. This implies a need to possess tacit knowledge that was obtained by a person without additional help from educational facilities or other people.

In order to understand foolishness and its meaning from a psychological perspective, it is necessary to define wisdom because it serves as a guideline for scientists researching the question. As was previously mentioned, many researchers focus on intelligence and define foolishness as a notion opposed to it. Additionally, foolishness as a concept is the opposite of self-awareness because, in most cases, people who display such behavior are unable to analyze their actions and evaluate them properly and critically. Thus, in general, learning practices aimed at minimizing egocentrism should focus on developing wisdom and the ability to reflect on one’s life and analyze events.

Foolishness and Egocentrism

Egocentrism is one component which characterizes a foolish person and refers to one’s inability to observe a situation from another person’s perspective. The theory proposed by Piaget hypothesizes that this quality is a part of the second stage in the human development process (Kesselring & Müller, 2011). During it, one assumes that his or her feelings and thoughts are the same as those of others around. This component implies a greater focus on the personal than on other perspectives; however, the issue should be mitigated during social interactions as a child is growing up.

The primary characteristics of this stage are a lack of consciousness. Therefore, a person is unable to distinguish between the outside world and internal feelings. Kesselring and Müller (2011) state that the development of an individual should lead to the emergence of realistic thinking and proper perception of the world, which are the opposite of self-centeredness. In regards to foolishness, this implies that a person who is not egocentric is capable of evaluating events, while a self-centered individual is not capable of doing so, which leads to foolishness.

It should be noted that further research shows that self-centeredness “reoccurs at different stages in development (Kesselring & Müller, 2011, p.327). According to the authors, the primary issue with egocentrism is the bias that it presupposes, which affects an individual’s perception of others.

Another factor suggesting that egocentrism is connected to foolishness is unrealistic optimism, which, as was previously mentioned, is another component that distinguishes the notion. Harris, de Molière, Soh, and Hahn (2017) state that, in general, people are more likely to display unrealistic optimism when making judgments about their future, which is not an indication of foolishness. However, the study by Harris et al. (2017) highlights that egocentrism connected to optimism seriously affects the ability of people to understand particular circumstances because it undermines their capabilities. Therefore, egocentrism, together with other components of foolishness, can severely impair one’s ability to evaluate circumstances.

Psychological implications of the issue are connected to the particular capabilities of an individual. Ardelt, Achenbaum, and Oh (2013) argue that self-centeredness should be viewed from a perspective of cognitive dimension, which is an “understanding of the intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of life and a desire to know the truth about the significance and deeper meaning of phenomena and events” (p. 266).

In this regard, self-centered people fail to recognize the point of view that a different individual may have. Ardelt et al. (2013) argue that the reduction of egocentrism would increase the wisdom of an individual. Humility exists as a contrast to this, which is usually acquired through the suffering and exploration of human emotions. The authors argue that their research suggests that the acquisition of wisdom is only possible if a person can distance him- or herself from the personal ego.

However, people who are not egocentric can judge the above assertion more clearly. Therefore, they can make better decisions based on facts. This enables their success when compared to egocentric people. When studying the perception of others in regards to foolish and wise individuals, Ardelt et al. (2013) found that people tend to think that those who focus on others and do not merely pursue personal interests are wiser.

Therefore, evidence suggests that egocentrism limits individuals and results in an adverse attitude from peers. Additionally, egocentrism impedes one from seeing barriers, thus, eliminating the possibility to find strategies for overcoming them. Ardelt et al. (2013) argue that wise individuals face “social, physical, and mental losses, with equanimity and acceptance rather than despair” (p. 276). These events help them mitigate the adverse effects of egocentrism.

However, some studies highlight a need to properly examine self-centeredness, implying that it does not always lead to negative outcomes. According to Dambrun (2017), egocentrism may affect other components of an individual’s life, such as happiness. In his study, the author tested the hypothesis that self-centeredness can have positive effects on a person’s mental well-being because it has an impact on fluctuating happiness.

Therefore, from Dambrun’s (2017) perspective, egocentrism is not a notion opposite to selflessness, but rather a distinct phenomenon. This implies that the characteristics of this notion discussed above and its connection to foolishness is not always correct, as in some cases egocentrism may have positive outcomes. In general, Dambrun’s (2017) research provides an understanding that both self-centeredness and altruism are necessary for the proper functioning of an individual and egocentrism does not always lead to foolishness.

Another perspective on egocentrism is offered by Hall (2010), who states that contrary to general beliefs, egocentric people are not good leaders. The author examines the issue from the viewpoint of a business organization, indicating that humility helps an individual’s prioritize the success of an organization over their achievements. In addition, such people are able to accept their failures and share gratitude to those who work hard. This corresponds with the definition of wisdom discussed earlier in this paper, according to which a wise person should be both self-aware and have an understanding of other people’s feelings.


Overall, egocentrism is a distinct dimension of foolishness that hinders individuals from making proper judgments about occurrences and other people. This concept impairs an individual’s ability to make explicit judgments about events and reality, which enables foolishness and obstructs wisdom. In addition, it affects the perception of others because self-centered individuals are more likely to be considered foolish. While some researchers suggest that egocentrism can have a positive effect on one’s happiness, in general, it significantly affects a person’s life and does not help in cases where leadership is required.


Aczel, B. Palfi, B., & Kekecs, Z. (2015). . Intelligence, 53, 51-58. Web.

Ardelt, M., Achenbaum, W. A., & Oh, H. (2013).The paradoxical nature of personal wisdom and its relation to human development in the reflective, cognitive, and affective domains. In M. Ferrari & N. M. Weststrate, (Eds.), The scientific study of personal wisdom from contemplative traditions to Neuroscience (pp. 265-299). New York, NY: Springer.

Dambrun, M. (2017). . PeerJ, 5, e3306. Web.

Foolishness. (n.d.). In Cambridge English Dictionary. Web.

Hall, S. S. (2010). Wisdom: From philosophy to neuroscience. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Harris, A. J., de Molière, L., Soh, M., & Hahn, U. (2017). . PloS One, 12(3), e0173136. Web.

Izak, M. (2013). . Scandinavian Journal of Management, 29(1), 108-115. Web.

Kesselring, T., & Müller, U. (2011). . New Ideas in Psychology, 29(3), 327-345. Web.

Mulligan, K. (2014). . The Monist, 97(1), 66-85. Web.

Solansky, S. T. (2013). . Journal of Business Ethics, 122(1), 39-51. Web.

Sternberg, R. J. (2018). . Research in Human Development, 15(3-4), 200-210. Web.

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