6 Life Lessons I Learned from the Most Prominent Social Psychologist


Throughout my college career, I studied under a psychologist who has a close relationship and mutual respect with arguably the most prominent social psychologist of all time: Dr. Elliot Aronson. Which yes, this means that I've been a lucky lady who has spoken with Dr. Aronson on multiple occasions. Dr. Aronson has spent his life studying and redefining cognitive dissonance, as well as the social nature of us humans as the "social animals" we are.

1. Mistakes were made (and definitely by me).  The perils of cognitive dissonance are REAL. Cognitive dissonance is the state of holding two or more inconsistent or challenging beliefs or attitudes about a situation, thing or person. Trying to justify why a situation isn't our fault (but knowing deep down inside that we truly did play a part in the event in question) is a staple of dissonance. To progress, we must acknowledge our wrongdoings.

2. There's nobody left to hate. We as a society shape our citizens. If we don't work to end this hyper-masculine narrative in our society, boys will always bully other boys and we will always have mass shootings. Similar to teaching intolerance and prejudice, we will never stop seeing cops senselessly murdering people of color. That escalated quickly, didn't it? This, among other facts, explains why there is absolutely nobody left to hate. We must work at changing the nature of our society if we want to see any true change occur.

As Dr. Aronson said to me, "It's not so much that I enjoy teaching compassion, but putting kids in a situation where they can begin to acquire compassion and an understanding of each other." Aronson is responsible for the famous Jigsaw classroom technique that helped integrate schools in Texas, allowing kids to work together to solve a problem, erasing the focus of their cultural differences.

3. We are all social animals. We are all affected by each other, settings and situations. Not one of us is "born evil" or "born saint-like", and "people who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy." We must understand social psychology in order to properly judge people and their situation(s). "The Social Animal" is Elliot's most famous text, now in its 11th edition with APA honors, widely regarded as the most long-lasting and relevant psychological text.

4. Democrat or bust. Dr. Aronson is a strong supporter of the Democratic party in U.S. politics (as am I), and has actively stood by our liberal thought process. He admits to providing advice to the Obama campaign (the second time around) in regards to hypocrisy research Aronson conducted many years before, encouraging an increase in the amount of African-American voters taking advantage of the opportunity to vote after the opposing side tried to stifle their votes in attempts at not getting Obama reelected. Democrat or bust, y'all!

5. "Any asshole can win if he's dealt the winning hand." Resiliency is key, and sometimes: "You have to do what you do well with what you get," as Dr. Aronson expressed during our last Skype session. The quote at the title of this lesson is what Aronson's brother told him when he was young. Aronson turns this around to say: while we cannot help our emotions to situations, we do have cognitive control and we can rationally analyze our thoughts, turning our emotional reactions into reasonable, rational behavior. A boy who grew up in poverty, later becoming almost completely blind, Aronson has never had it naturally easy. He proclaimed: "Every ground ball counts, and you have to play with what you get!"

6. Most important of all: you will end up where you want to be, not by chance alone. In his autobiography, Dr. Aronson speaks to his experiences of success (and failure). His life is a testament to why we all must go after what we want and take risks, because we won't get anywhere by sitting and waiting for our good fate to happen. Aronson says, "Students are continually asking themselves, 'Who am I?' My goal was to get them to reframe the question into: 'Who do I want to become?' Once they arrive at their own answer, they must also learn that getting there won’t come by chance alone."

I won't forget these life lessons as I graduate college, move on and do bigger things in life. Thanks to Dr. Elliot Aronson, I feel as though I have more insight than I would have had my life not been touched by his works and gentle soul.