Sources of Students’ Misconceptions in Economics, pp. 7 of 15

  • An economist studies people and how they make choices. (3.1)
  • An economist compares current and historical data to determine answers to social problems. (3.5)
  • An economist observes and reviews information, and drawing from information from the past, predicts where the economy will be in the future. (4.0)
  • An economist uses data and existing models to predict future events. (3.9)
  • An economist alters models so that they are consistent with the data that has been gathered.(4.0)
  • Economists analyze complex phenomena in the real world in abstract forms by means of graphs or equations. (3.4)
  • The simplification of a complex phenomenon can provide an insight into that phenomenon that would not otherwise be possible. (3.4) 

The findings suggest considerable variation in respondents’ understandings of what economists do and economics as a way of thinking.

Students with a flawed understanding of economics and the way economists approach problem solving are likely to generate many misconceptions in the subject.  For example, students may find it hard to reconcile their experiences and observations of consumer and producer behavior in the real world with comparative statistics that isolate key variables to explain economic behavior. It may also be puzzling to such students that economists predict likely outcomes based on economic “laws” only to challenge the analysis with critical evaluation and limitations. As economic recommendations are necessarily context-specific, students may encounter dissonance as they expect generalized solutions only to be told that the solution depends on the assumptions and the conditions present in each case.

The following two examples taken from lesson observations of junior college economics classes illustrate how students’ misperceptions of what economics is about impedes their learning of the subject.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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