From Piaget to Prosocial

Alison Malisa
3 min readJan 20, 2022


Most teachers and therapists will have some introduction to cognitive psychology, whose cognitive leader is Jean Piaget.

2–6 year olds are in the preoperational stage which includes:

Centration. This is the tendency to focus on only one (self-centered) aspect of a situation at one time. (Sound like American culture?)

Egocentrism. This refers to a child’s inability to see a situation from another person’s point of view. Thus, the egocentric child assumes that other people see, hear, and feel exactly the same as the child does. (Fostering judgement upon those who don’t see as we do.)

Interactive play vs. parallel play. While interactive play is a developmental value at this stage, certainly most adults might do better to return to parallel play: playing well alone without interfering with others.

Symbolism. Piaget believed cognitive development promotes language development, not vice versa. Does this reflect Chomsky’s theories? Why emphasize a one way influence trajectory rather than recognizing both feeding into one another? Certainly the language we use develops the way we think about the world, Piaget.

Animism. Is this supposed to be something that we grow out of, or just another WEIRD expectation. Has an innate understanding of the world been deleted by a lack of language and cultural value for that understanding?

Studies the previously confirmed centrism and ego-centricity in babies has been disproven. The new research, with better study designs, show that children tend more toward prosociality, even as babies.

Social Science is adapting in a couple of ways.

  1. We are developing new ways of seeing human beings as naturally prosocial and cooperative rather than naturally ego-centric.
  2. Westerners are increasingly embracing that idea that the dominant narrative of humanity being on the up and up is simply WEIRD.

Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies — who represent as much as 80 percent of study participants, but only 12 percent of the world’s population — are not only unrepresentative of humans as a species, but on many measures they’re outliers. (APA)

What we want in the social science classroom is to detach from WEIRD history, open up stories about how our cultures have been defined by an economics of domination, and proceed to invite a discussion of what prosocial potential is possible.

Social science and economics has been self-referential and teleological “Things are the way they are because these things happened, and these things happened because that is what human nature is. Therefore, although flawed, it is the best we can do. We have to be patient, but things are getting increasingly better. I mean, look at the past!”

That is the basic lesson of big history.

How about instead, we look everywhere for signs indicating what we want: philosophers, books, artwork, poetry, culture, economies… then let’s look at the barriers. Are they real or perceived? What is newly available to us as prosocial beings that can be leveraged to overcome prior barriers, and get closer to the world we want, where peace, prosperity, regeneration, and wellbeing for all thrive.

This fantastic chart shows the evolution of thinking at the intersection of psychology (individual/inner) and economics (collective/external).



Alison Malisa

EconoWitch||Stirring the pot of Economics Education & Research 4 Peace, Prosperity, Regeneration, and Wellbeing for All. Prosocial||Nature||Salutogenesis