Assimilation vs Accommodation
Assimilation and accommodation are very important processes that are believed to be complimentary and necessary for cognitive development of human beings. If this sounds too heavy, think of assimilation as the process of absorption; as like a local culture absorbs cultural influences from outside cultures or conquerors of a nation. On the other hand, accommodation can be thought of as giving way to a friend on your seat in school. Often people get confused between the principles of assimilation and accommodation because of overlapping and similarities. This article attempts to clarify all doubts by highlighting differences between the two.
The principles of assimilation and accommodation were used by social scientist Piaget, to describe the process of cognitive development. This is a theory that talks about development of intelligence in human beings. A growing toddler makes sense of the world and things around him using both assimilation and accommodation.
Human beings, when confronted with unfamiliar surroundings, perceive and then adapt to the new information. An infant knows how to handle a rattle as he picks it up and thrusts it into his mouth. But when he gets a hard object like his mother’s mobile, he learns to handle it in a different manner. The new way of handling an object is referred to as assimilation as the baby fits this method of handling into his old schema. In ancient times, when a country was invaded, and the conquerors tried to force their culture and religion on the locals, the locals learnt to absorb the influences of outside culture, which is another example of assimilation. Thus, assimilation is the process of adaptation where ideas and concepts are made to fit in alongside pre-existing ideas and concepts to make sense. A small child who has seen pet dog at home, when he gets to see a new breed of dog, he tries to fit in the image of the new creature into his mind and still perceives it as a dog. He fits the new image into the pre-existing image of a dog in his head to conclude that the new creature also is a dog.
This is a process of learning or adaptation that is complementary to assimilation. This refers to the process where a small child needs to alter the pre-existing schema inside his mind to make sense of new things that he encounters in the outside world. Let us extend the example of dog to understand accommodation. A small kid has seen the friendly and playful nature of his dog at home, but when he encounters the aggressive nature of a dog outside, he is frightened as he has to alter the image of a dog inside his mind to include vicious and aggressive behavior to complete the image of dogs. So when a child has been forced to change his pre-existing ideas to make way for new and unexpected information, he is making use of accommodation to make sense of the outside world.
Kids are like sponges. They soak up information from the outside world all the time using both assimilation and accommodation techniques to understand all new things. Both processes help in expanding their knowledge, and they are better able to make sense of the outside world. Assimilation as a learning process is more active during initial stages of development, as a child finds easier to make sense of new objects by fitting them in the pre-existing images inside his brain. On the other hand, only in later stages of development a child is able to use the concept of accommodation, which is possible because of cognitive development that has taken place.