There are always some equal and opposing forces that work with each other to strike and maintain a balance. They are opposite to each other, but don’t exist without each other. Two such concepts are assimilation and accommodation.
The Line of Difference
Equilibrium is the state where the new information is accepted with the help of schemas in the state of assimilation. Disequilibrium occurs when the new information doesn’t fit, and requires accommodation.
In order to grasp the meaning of the terminologies, accommodation and assimilation, it is imperative to first understand the concept of Adaptation, and the broader concept of Cognitive Theory, and Cognitive Development.
Cognitive theory is used in the science of psychology. Its purpose is to understand the thought process, which in turn is used to determine emotions and behavior. This theory was coined by Jean Piaget. He used this theory to understand the various mental processes, shaped by various factors which can be internal as well as external. These together facilitate learning in an individual. This is one of the most renowned theories of cognitive development.
Cognitive development is a culmination of several processes such as the building process, remembering events and information, the faculty of the brain to resolve issues, and also the ability of the brain to come to a conclusion, and take a decision. This process takes place in all humans, among all age-groups in varying amounts depending on the age of the person.
Adaptation is the complex phenomenon to be able to adapt to a newer environment that introduces new sets of information and experiences. This enables us to accept new things and adopt a new behavior and habits.
Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Opposed to the perceived notion that children can’t think as adults, up to a certain age, Piaget noted down several theories to prove that, children, like adults have a set of thought process, which are seemingly different from those of the adults. The process of learning is never ending. It is known and believed by all that there is practically no age for learning new things. This is equally true when we talk in regards to children. They begin learning soon after their birth. They try and adapt to the changing environment. This is when learning develops altogether. Only the degree of learning differs from child to child. They start assimilation and using the information from their environment and also make assumptions based on these gathered information and data.
According to Piaget’s cognitive theory, cognitive development has got three elements. These are:
- Adaptation Process
- Stages of Development
The adaptation process consists of equilibrium, assimilation, and accommodation.
According to Piaget, an infant’s mind is registered with a number of schemas. Schemas are the blocks that already dwell in the minds of the infants. They simply relate to these schemas, when they come across new things in the new environment. As the infant grows, these schemas become more abundant.
Assimilation is the way of using or referring to an already existing schema to adapt to a new environment, or to adopt a new subject in the environment.
Accommodation comes into play when the existing schema doesn’t serve the purpose, and requires alteration in order to adopt the new subject, or to adapt to the new environment.
Therefore, the key difference between assimilation and accommodation is that, in assimilation, there is no need to change an already existing idea in order to accept a new concept or new idea. Whereas, in accommodation, it is necessary to alter an already existing concept in order to make space for the new one.
Assimilation Vs. Accommodation: Understanding with Examples
It is one of the methods of registering a new concept or experience, or adopting new logic or habit. It is a relatively easy way of accepting new things and having them without having to change any of the previously existing norms and concepts. It needs no adjustment.
Let’s consider a child seeing the picture of a four-legged animal with pointed ears, a short nose, and a tail. He has been taught that this four-legged animal is called a DOG. So next time when he sees another picture of a dog with the above mentioned features, but of differing colors, he still knows that the animal is a DOG, referring to his set of schemas about dogs. This is Assimilation.
Assimilation Bias Psychology
As we already know, our mind is a storehouse of schemas, which keeps on expanding as we age and gain experience. It sometimes happens that, when we come across something very new, we try to fit it in the available schemas that we have. In the process, we end up thinking in a box. We remain aloof from knowing and understanding the subject as it is. We try to interpret it with our own biases intact.
Let us take into consideration a hypothetical situation. Tom has the Smith family as his neighbor. The Smiths have a five-year old daughter who is polite and well behaved. Tom likes the child and has a good opinion about her. He believes that she is a nice child who will not come up with abrupt pranks. One day he catches her in the act of stealing flowers from his backyard garden. He is shocked to have seen her doing this mischief. But he is not able to change his opinion about her being one of the most well-behaved kid. He rather thinks that, perhaps the child did it under the influence of bad company. He is biased in his judgment of a new trait of the girl. Thus, a case of assimilation bias.
Cultural Assimilation Psychology
This happens to be a very interesting phenomenon of assimilation. In this there are two cultural groups in context. Due to exposure, and the process of diffusion, the minority group gets influenced by the dominant group and gradually adopts the culture of the majority, which is dominant. This process is termed as cultural assimilation. Behavioral assimilation happens when a new entrant adopts the culture of the new society he has shifted to, but also retains his own tradition and culture.
When in the past several places in the world were colonized, owing to the foreign rule, those countries lost most of their heritage. They had to adopt the cultural system of foreign invaders. This happened in many parts of the world, such as the introduction of Christianity in many parts of Asia, which in the beginning practiced other faith.
It is the process of making place for new information, either by modifying the old sets of information, or denouncing them altogether. When a child or for that matter an adult encounters a resistance in accepting new knowledge, there arises conflict in his mind. Accommodation comes into effect only when there is a state of conflict.
Now let us consider that with the above mentioned schema about dogs, the child sees a picture of a similar animal, with pointed ears, a short nose, and a tail. He at once knows that the animal is a DOG, only to be taught later that it was a PIG. This calls in for accommodation, where he needs to modify his idea about ‘four-legged’ animals.
This is the process of changing or altering one’s own identity, owing to the factors in the environment. In simpler terms, we can say that, when an individual makes significant changes in his own persona, in order to experience new things in his life, which were alien until now, the process is identity accommodation, which is opposed to identity assimilation. Both the processes are parts and parcel of the Identity Process Theory.
Let us suppose the case of a teenager who has recently been admitted to a top ranking school. Until now she was brought up in a conservative atmosphere, where she led a life, as she was asked to. But now, after joining a new school, she is subject to many different students who are her contemporaries, and lead very different lives. She suffers from low self-esteem as she doesn’t possess things that she should have ideally possessed by now, for instance, the dress and the looks. Slowly, she transforms herself into what she sees in her environment. She accommodates herself into the new experience. She changes her perception, her values, and her opinions. This is identity accommodation. This is in total contrast of identity assimilation, which is not changing one’s own opinions and values.
Have you ever noticed how you ‘got used to’ something which you detested in the first place. For example, how you got used to the stink of cigarette caused by the mindless smoking of your colleague who sits just beside you. Despite repeated requests he smokes just there at the workstation. Over a period of time, you just got used to it, and don’t find it unbearable. This is the case of sensory accommodation.
The law of nature is to strike a state of cohesion and balance which lends a state of stability. Anything that is unstable will gradually proceed towards a state of balance. The same is true for human minds. When there is symmetry between what we think and the reality, we are in a state of balance. When this balance is disturbed, we try to reinstate symmetry through the process of accommodation, assimilation, equilibrium, and adaptation.