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The theory of imaginary audience is one of two parts of David Elkind’s theory of adolescent egocentrism. Imaginary audience represents an adolescent’s belief that people around them are preoccupied with the adolescent as much as the adolescent themselves.

Another way to look at this is the idea that teenagers carry that everyone is looking at them. To fulfill this conceptualization, many adolescents engage in attention-getting reflecting their egocentrism. Adolescents are commonly observed to be trying to be “on-stage, noticed, and visible”. Imagine the student who thinks that simple, small pimple is noticed and stared at by everyone. Imagine the adolescent who is convinced everyone sees that tiny stain on his or her pants. These signify imaginary audience.

Currently imaginary audience is widely accepted by the psychology community. However, debate exists over the root of it. One camp believes that it can come to be from formal operational thought. An opposing belief states the emergence of imaginary audience can be found rooted in perspective taking and interpersonal understanding.

Resources include: Elkind, D. (1978). Understanding the young adolescent. Adolescence , 13, 127-134.

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