In psychology, centration is the tendency to focus on one salient aspect of a situation and neglect other, possibly relevant aspects. Tasks for children 6 years old math used a number 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 quantity will remain the same despite adjustment of the container, shape, or apparent size. Perhaps the most famous task indicative of centration is the conservation of liquids task.
In one version, the child is shown two glasses, A1 and A2, that are 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. Here, centration is demonstrated in the fact that the child pays attention to one aspect of the liquid, either the height or the width, and is unable to conserve because of it. With achievement 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 egg cups and a bunch of eggs, placing them in rows of equal length, but not equal number.
Children demonstrated conservation of weight and length through a similar task. In this one, children were shown two balls of Playdoh that were equal in size. When asked whether they were the same or not, all children answered that yes, they were. Piaget believed that in each period of development, a deficit in cognitive thinking could be attributed to the concept of egocentrism. Egocentrism, then, refers to the inability to distinguish one’s own perspective from that of others, but does not necessarily imply selfishness or conceit. While centration is a generally tendency for children within various cognitive tasks, perseveration, on the other hand, is centration in access.
It is usually caused by brain injury or other organic disorder. Perseveration and centration are connected, in that centration is a basis for perseveration, but perseveration itself is seen to be a symptom of injury. Where perseveration is more of an issue when seen in adults, centration is a deficit in children’s thinking that can be overcome more easily, through typical developmental gains. Children generally achieve conservation of liquids at about 7 years. When they do so, they are entering the stage of concrete operations. Overcoming centration can be seen in three main forms.
Second, the argument of compensation might be used, where the child states that tallness of the one glass and the wideness of the other glass cancel each other out. Piaget argued that children master centration and conservation spontaneously. The crucial moment comes when the child is in a state of internal contradiction. This is shown when the child first says that one glass has more because it’s taller, than says the other has more because it is wider, and then becomes confused. Multitasking, seen through cognitive flexibility and set-shifting, requires decentration so that attention may be shifted between multiple salient objects or situations.