Younger students such as freshmen and many sophomores tend to take in knowledge and life experiences in a simplistic, “dualistic” way, viewing something as either right or wrong. They see knowledge as existing outside themselves and look to authority figures for the answers.
This dualistic stage is most obvious when these students confront a conflict. Although they may be able to apply critical-thinking skills in a structured classroom environment, they often lack the ability to apply these skills in real-life conflicts. When confronted with a situation such as occurred in the Milgram study of obedience,11 they are more likely to follow an authority figure even if they feel uncomfortable doing so. In addition, a controversial issue such as affirmative action, where there is little agreement among authorities and no clear-cut right or wrong answers, can leave students at this stage struggling to make sense of it. We’ll be studying some perspectives on affirmative action at the end of this chapter.
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When researching an issue, students at the dualistic stage may engage in confirmation bias, seeking out only evidence that supports their views and dismissing as unreliable statistics that contradict them.12 The fact that their “research” confirms their views serves to reinforce their simplistic, black-and-white view of the world.