The Importance of Assimilation in Adaptation

Assimilation in adaptation

Verywell / Cindy Chung

Assimilation refers to a part of the adaptation process initially proposed by Jean Piaget. Through assimilation, we take in new information or experiences and incorporate them into our existing ideas. The process is somewhat subjective because we tend to modify experience or information to fit in with our pre-existing beliefs.

Assimilation plays an important role in how we learn about the world around us. In early childhood, children are constantly assimilating new information and experiences into their existing knowledge about the world. However, this process does not end with childhood. As people encounter new things and interpret these experiences, they make both small and large adjustments to their existing ideas about the world around them.

Let's take a closer look at assimilation and the role it plays in the learning process.

How Does Assimilation Work?

Piaget believed that there are two basic ways that we can adapt to new experiences and information. Assimilation is the easiest method because it does not require a great deal of adjustment. Through this process, we add new information to our existing knowledge base, sometimes reinterpreting these new experiences so that they will fit in with previously existing information.

In assimilation, children make sense of the world by applying what they already know. It involves fitting reality and what they experience into their current cognitive structure. A child's understanding of how the world works, therefore, filters and influences how they interpret reality.

For example, let's imagine that your neighbors have a daughter who you have always known to be sweet, polite and kind. One day, you glance out your window and see the girl throwing a snowball at your car. It seems out of character and rather rude, not something you would expect from this girl.

How do you interpret this new information? If you use the process of assimilation, you might dismiss the girl's behavior, believing that maybe it's something she witnessed a classmate doing and that she does not mean it to be impolite. You're not revising your opinion of the girl, you are simply adding new information to your existing knowledge. She's still a kind child, but now you know that she also has a mischievous side to her personality.

If you were to utilize the second method of adaptation described by Piaget, the young girl's behavior might cause you to reevaluate your opinion of her. This process is what Piaget referred to as accommodation, in which old ideas are changed or even replaced based on new information.

Assimilation and accommodation both work in tandem as part of the learning process. Some information is simply incorporated into our existing schemas through the process of assimilation while other information leads to the development of new schemas or total transformations of existing ideas through the process of accommodation.

More Examples

  • A college student learning how to use a new computer program
  • A sees a new type of dog that he's never seen before and he immediately points to the animal and says, "Dog!"
  • A chef learning a new cooking technique
  • A computer programmer learning a new programming language

In each of these examples, the individual is adding information to their existing schema. Remember, if new experiences cause the person to alter or completely change their existing beliefs, then it is known as accommodation.

A Word From Verywell

Assimilation and accommodation are complementary learning processes that play a role at each stage of cognitive development. During the sensorimotor stage, for example, young infants interact with the work through their sensory and motor experiences. Some information is assimilated, while some experiences must be accommodated. It is through these processes that infants, children, and adolescents gain new knowledge and progress through the stages of development.

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Article Sources

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  • Miller, PH. Piaget's Theory: Past, Present, and Future. The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive Development. U. Goswami (Ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons; 2011.