Sources of Students’ Misconceptions in Economics, pp. 9 of 15

Addressing students’ pre-conceived notions of what economics is about and presenting to them economics as a way of thinking should be a top priority for all teachers of first-year economics courses. Teachers’ explanations and modelling may effectively remove the misconceived notions of some students. Other learners may need to participate in economic research and project work to experience the economic approach first hand for disciplinarity issues to be resolved.

Students’ “linguistic mindset”

Prior conceptions of a term or a phenomenon that are embodied in our everyday language often compete with discipline-specific conceptions, creating barriers to understanding concepts in economics. A mindset identified by Kourilsky (1993) is the “linguistic mindset” which derives from “natural linguistic use and the subsequent psychological tendency to identify with the natural language use of the term or concept” (p. 26). Economists borrow terms such as scarcity, cost, demand and investment from our everyday language to represent specific economic concepts. These terms have their precise definitions in economics which are different from their everyday usage. Unless the differences in meanings are highlighted to learners, they are bound to be confused, leading to development of misconceptions.

For example, scarcity is typically understood as some absolute quality of a good, but in economics, it is a relative concept – availability relative to desirability. Another common example relates to the use of the term demand. There are at least two perspectives of the concept of demand. “Demand” as used in everyday life context refers to “a mindset of something that is adamantly desired or insisted upon” (Kourilsky 1993, p. 27). In the discipline of economics, demand must be “backed by willingness and ability to pay (Sloman 2006, p. 35). In addition, economists distinguish between movements along and shifts of the demand curve, the former reflecting changes in the amount consumers want to buy arising from price changes and the latter, changes in the amount consumers want arising from non-price factors (Sloman 2006). 

The above distinctions in economics compound the confusion that students experience in deciphering the meaning of each term.

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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