Elliot Aronson is one of the most recognized social psychologists today. They emphasize their research on cognitive dissonance and, above all, have created the Jigsaw technique. It is a cooperative learning method that reduces hostility, racial conflicts, prejudices and positively optimizes educational outcomes in the classroom.
As a striking fact, it should be noted that Aronson is the only person in the history of the American Psychological Association (APA) who has won the three main prizes: for his work as a writer, for teaching and for his contributions to research. In 2007 he also received the William James Prize for a lifetime dedicated to psychological science.
He is a man of humble roots committed to aspects as diverse as prejudices, energy efficiency, justice, conflict, communication problems, the challenges of teaching …. He is still active at 87, even though about 20 years ago he lost his vision due to macular degeneration.
It is common to see him with Desi, his Labrador Retriever, a guide dog with whom he still attends lectures. In addition, it continues to inspire thousands of students, researchers, writers or teachers who see in it a reference to follow.
“The American mind, in particular, has been trained to equate success with victory, to equate doing well with beating someone.”
Elliot Aronson, one of the most outstanding social psychologists of the 20th century
Elliot Aronson was born in Revere, Massachusetts, on January 9, 1932. As we have pointed out, his origins are very humble. In fact, it comes from a problematic family and marked by poverty. As he himself explained on more than one occasion, he could barely afford the university. There were semesters in which he had to leave the classes and sleep in the back seats of some car.
Now, everything changed when he entered by mistake a class taught by Abraham Maslow. After that experience, he decided to leave the law school he had started, to devote himself fully to psychology. He obtained a scholarship, Maslow himself became his mentor for later, obtaining a doctorate at Stanford University. Leon Festinger was his counselor in the thesis.
Next, Elliot Aronson began to practice as a professor in several universities, such as Harvard, Minnesota or Texas. Later, he would also become a prominent figure at Stanford University. They are more than 50 years of career in which their main objective has always been to improve the coexistence and human quality of our society.
This challenge has been addressed by Aronson helping to understand and reduce prejudice, discrimination and social inequality. His has been a task fully dedicated to dissemination and research, a passionate and fervent commitment that has earned him enter the list of the 100 most influential psychologists of the 20th century, according to the Review of General Psychology.
These are the main contributions that Elliot Aronson has left to social psychology.
It was Leon Festinger, professor of Aronson, who laid the foundations of cognitive dissonance understood as that psychological discomfort that a person can experience when inside, coexist beliefs, values or ideas that by themselves are contradictory.
Now, Elliot Aronson went even deeper into this theory. He showed us through experiments that people will always strive to appear rational, even though, at times, our ideas and behaviors are clearly contradictory.
An example. We have a person who is a smoker. He clearly knows that this practice can lead to serious illnesses, but he still smokes. She suffers, therefore, a cognitive dissonance and to end that contradiction and psychological discomfort, she will end up generating a behavior to end that situation: either she will leave that habit or she will tell herself that those beliefs are false and that he / she nothing will happen to her.
The Jigsaw technique
The Jigsaw technique or puzzle classroom is a cooperative learning method that Aronson created in 1971 in the wake of the ethnic and racial conflicts that were experienced in many schools in Texas.
Together and in constant cooperation, the students must reach certain objectives, which finally, revert in the whole group.
His best-known book: The social animal
In The Social Animal Elliot Aronson reveals in depth, and exceptionally, how a person or a group develops prejudices about another ethnic or racial group. We are before an exquisite and admirable work that facilitates us to understand human social behavior.
Key teachings of The social animal
- Whether we like it or not, we are surrounded by other human beings. We depend on the quality of these daily interactions to live together, to create more respectful scenarios.
- Now, people just take the time to discover how others are. We do not communicate effectively, we get carried away by what others tell us, by rumors, stereotypes and prejudices. We do not know how to connect to know what drives, motivates or worries others.
- Social psychology is key to understanding the secret needs and desires of the people around us.
- Likewise, as Aronson points out in The Social Man, we have become a society based on conformism. We let ourselves go without thinking for ourselves. We choose the easiest options although they are not always precisely the most human or successful ones.
- Sometimes, we even adopt other behaviors to feel accepted. We follow other people’s criteria to be part of a group, although this group sometimes leads us to generate inappropriate behavior and even little respect. So, if others drink, we also drink. If our collective hates immigrants, so do we.
- Elliot Aronson urges us to understand and reflect on the following: before forming part of a certain group of people, make sure that your ideas, words and actions, resonate with your beliefs, values and understandings. Avoid stupidities, avoid inhumanity, that which disconnects one from the other.