Developmental Psychology Humor

Do children experience an imaginary audience even before adolescence, especially in pre-teen girls?

Imaginary Audience before Adolescence?


Each semester, parents of preteen girls in my Psychology of Adolescence class argue that the phenomena of imaginary audience is no longer confined to adolescents. They have young daughters, around 11-12 years of age, who exhibit the same behaviors. Does anyone know any research on this downward age trend which might be correlated with earlier maturation and/or media persuasion? ~ Shelby


Shelby asks about anecdotes of 11 to 12 year old girls feeling an imaginary audience. That's consistent with the original empirical research (Elkind & Bowen, 1979)! In the original study, they measured two kinds of imaginary audience in a cross-section of 4th, 6th, 8th, and 12th graders. Results showed that girls were more likely than boys to have an imaginary audience and the peak presence of an imaginary audience was during 8th grade. Over time, we might have sharpened and leveled our discussion of the findings so it's as though the imaginary audience were a categorically distinct way 8th graders think. The results are much more gradual. Looking at the graph in the original paper, 6th grade girls were also particularly high on the "abiding" sub-scale (revealing something embarrassing about yourself as opposed to a momentary embarrassing event). I like to point out connections between branches of psychology in my classes, so I usually mention the social psychology "spotlight effect" too (illustrating college students feel similarly too). Hope this help!