Difference Between Assimilation and Accomodation
For Piaget, adaptation defined intellectual growth. To advance in intellectual development meant to adapt better to the outside world and develop more accurate ideas about this world. The process of adaptation occurred through two processes: assimilation and accomodation (Wadsworth, 2004).
The individual has mental schemas – a schema is a mental block of knowledge that involves several elements connected by a key meaning. A schema can be considered as a unit of knowledge or a building block for the mind and intellect. It can be viewed as a unit used to organize the knowledge an individual has. The mind of a person will have many schemas that will help them react and respond to the world around them (Wadsworth, 2004).
If the person’s knowledge is adapted to the world around them, their schemas are in equilibrium. They don’t need to be changed in any way and are sufficient to explain the world that surrounds the individual. However, the more intelligent a person is, the more schemas they will have. They will also have more complex schemas that involve more varied information. Children have simple schemas, but as they grow and undergo a process of cognitive development, their schemas become more complex. Through the adaptation process, schemas evolve and become more accurate, complex, and numerous (Wadsworth, 2004).
For example, a child who has a labrador can have a schema associated with dogs. That schema may be limited and based on interactions with the family dog. If the child encounters an aggressive dog, even if the family dog may be friendly, the schema will need to change to respond to it. Another example of the change could be if the child encounters a very different dog breed, like a chihuahua, and may need to be told that this is a dog too to adjust the schema in accordance with the information.
The process of assimilation occurs when the individual is faced with new information that fits into existing schemas. The person is able to integrate it into a schema, making the schema more complex (Wadsworth, 2004).
For example, a person can have a schema about taking the subway. They know the costs, how to pay, how to enter, which station they need, etc. When a person travels to another country and uses the local subway, they may need to assimilate new information, for example, a new cost. However, the information fits within the existing schema, because it doesn’t contradict it and doesn’t require a significant change.
The process of accomodation occurs when there is new information that doesn’t fit into an existing schema. This creates a lack of equilibrium and means that the person will be frustrated and motivated to create a new schema or modify the existing schema to fit the new information. Accomodation requires a more significant effort and creates a state in which the person’s schemas are not in equilibrium, which is meant to motivate the integration of new ideas into the mind (Wadsworth, 2004).
For example, a person arrives in a new city and finds a new way of transportation that their original city doesn’t have. The person will need to accommodate the information by changing the original schemas and creating new schemas to fit this new information and adapt to the world.
These two processes allow adaptation and increase the person’s intellectual capacity by helping make new schemas and enhance existing schemas to increase their complexity and the information that they contain.
In short, the key difference between assimilation and acommodation lies in whether the person needs to modify existing schemas to fit the new information (accomodation) or the new information can fit into the existing schemas (assimilation). Accomodation would require more resources and create a state in which there is a lack of equilibrium. Equilibrium occurs when nothing needs to be modified and when the existing schemas are sufficient to explain the outside world.
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Wadswort, B.J. (2004). Piaget's Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development. U.S.: Pearson.