May 22, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance and Sociology Classes

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author_sally By Sally Raskoff

Does your sociology class cause you some discomfort as you learn about topics from this new perspective? Do some of the research findings and sociological perspectives conflict with your own world view or beliefs? Sometime sociology classes produce cognitive dissonance, or a situation where contradictory beliefs require us to change our minds about something.

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone in this experience and there are a number of ways you might deal with it:

clip_image0061. You might completely reject any or all of the sociological ideas and concepts. If you are learning about concepts or research findings that seem to conflict with your values or beliefs, you may decide that sociologists are just wrong. This may be especially likely if you are a member of a family, cultural, or religious group that has strong beliefs about such concepts and topics. The problem with this rejection is that you will not be open to learning anything sociological. So your sociology class might be a wasted effort.

2. You might reject your values and beliefs when they conflict with the information you are exposed to in your sociology class. This may alienate you from your family, friends, and community. This reaction doesn’t serve you well either, because you won’t learn anything.

3. You may consider how the new information meshes with your beliefs and values, to clarify and analyze how your own thoughts correspond to those of the wider society. You may eventually accept what the sociological findings have to say or you may not, but at least you have considered them critically.

clip_image009This third response comprises true learning and is the goal of education in any academic discipline. Being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking is the hallmark of our educational system when it works best. This doesn’t mean that the process is easy or simple or that you have to completely agree with everything you are learning.

For example, same-sex marriage is a big topic in the news and in many of my blogs. I am well aware that many readers may not “support” the idea of same-sex couples having the right to marry. However, my goal in using that issue to teach sociology is not to gain converts to that cause. My goal is to frame the issue in a number of ways that allow people to see it in a different light, using sociology to better understand not only the issue but also our societal dynamics and cultural values.

In fact, considering how your own values and beliefs resonate with the issues is a wonderful learning tool. It helps you understand different sides of an issue you might not have considered and to bring your own assumptions, values, and beliefs into view and consciousness. It’s useful to analyze one’s own perspective critically because this process can help you reinforce your belief system or modify it if necessary – but you won’t know if your system fits you well until you analyze it!

In the educational process, we are often exposed to ideas that disrupt our traditional ways of thinking. How we deal with these ideas is important if we are taking our education seriously. Education is the process of learning new things and those new things cause us to change our ways of thinking. This does not necessarily mean we start to believe everything we hear, but we do think more critically about what we hear, assess that information, and decide what to do with those ideas new to us.

clip_image012Sociology is about how we live our lives and why we make the choices we do, so taking sociology classes can be very disruptive to our sense of self. For example, in the typical sociology class, students may become very discouraged as the semester progresses and they learn the depth of our societal problems and how most of our solutions have unintended consequences and causing other problems. We also learn that our own personal problems are linked to wider “public” problems and thus they can seem intractable and perpetuating. We may also learn that our own beliefs can be considered prejudiced and discriminatory from another’s viewpoint. This can be painful.

We also learn in sociology classes that societal institutions (e.g., family, religion, economy) change, albeit slowly, that all societies have dysfunctions, including those between their ideals and their realities, and that while there will be power abuses and conflict between different societal entities, society has ways to balance power and deal with conflict.

Sociology presents not just social problems, but possible solutions. As a students of sociology, it is imperative that we look beyond what seems right or wrong about what we learn, but how we can use the information to create positive change.

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Comments

Reading that article made me think about my struggles with my views and sociology class. Kinda makes me wish there were more clases like that in schools. Anywho I was wondering if you think only certain types of classes make you think about what your true values and make you think deep. Because it seems to me that a lot of the classes I am taking for school are really no thought intensive just busywork. Where sociology really makes me think. In my opion the real tough classes like this should be tought more.

NIck

To be a student of sociology class, means that views will be tested and if your not learning you dying

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