In Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, equilibration promotes increasingly complex forms of thought. When children encounter new events that they can interpret and respond to using either actions or thoughts (schemes), they experience equilibrium. Children assess schemes as they learn from experiences, modifying and forming new schemes through the process of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is when children can respond to and possibly interpret events in a way that is consistent with existing schemes, while accommodation requires modification or the formation of a new scheme (Ormrod, 2016). As children age, they increasingly meet situations in which their current knowledge is inadequate, causing a state of disequilibrium, or cognitive conflict. Children who are able to resolve this mental disharmony and move from disequilibrium to equilibrium, develop more advanced levels of reasoning (Ormrod, 2016).
In the current study, we aimed to design a lesson plan with such a cognitive-developmental perspective to equip eleventh graders with proper mental tools for effective equilibration in class and throughout their lives. By crafting a controlled state of cognitive dissonance, tempered with humor to balance the potentially heavy cognitive load, students learn to recognize and constructively respond to the psychological phenomenon of disequilibrium. Practicing this evaluation of individual cognitive dissonance during the critical-thinking exercises prepares students in consciously processing assimilation and accommodation; specifically, in regards to how their knowledge could be narrow, flawed, or improved upon. Students identify how cognitive dissonance can hinder communication, debate, research, and understanding of complex topics or diverse perspectives when handled inappropriately.
McLane, Leslie, "Developing Sophisticated Reasoning Through Experiential Cognitive Dissonance" (2020). Academic Excellence Showcase Proceedings. 189.
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