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Assimilation and Accommodation

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  • 0:38 Assimilation
  • 1:00 Accommodation
  • 1:18 Schemas
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ellie Green

Ellie holds a B.A. with Honors in English from Stanford University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Princeton University.

How do assimilation and accommodation help a child adapt to his environment? You'll explore how established and changing patterns of information drive a child's intellectual growth as he learns about cats and dogs.

Jack adjusting his concept of dog is an example of accommodation
Jack and grandmother

Let's say that Jack is a young boy whose family owns a big, shaggy dog, named Rufus. One day, Jack visits his grandmother, who has just adopted a new little poodle. Even though this new dog looks quite different than Jack's familiar Rufus, Jack still recognizes that the poodle is also a dog. Jack put the new object -- his grandmother's poodle -- into an already established category -- 'dog.' The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget called this assimilation. Let's say Jack next visited his aunt, who has a cat. Jack points at the cat and says 'dog!' His concept of dog, which successfully included both Rufus and his grandmother's poodle, is too broad; he calls anything that has four legs and fur a 'dog.' His father explains that this is a 'cat,' and Jack adjusts his concept of 'dog' accordingly. This is known as accommodation. Both are part of Piaget's idea of adaptation, or the ways in which children learn about and categorize the world.

Both assimilation and accommodation are related to the idea of schemas. Schemas are simply established patterns used to organize knowledge. Schemas underlie how we think in a lot of ways; for example, stereotyping involves accessing a schema about how one type of person usually acts and using it to predict their behavior. Assimilation and accommodation are the ways that children incorporate new information into their schemas. Jack filed 'poodle' under the existing header 'dog,' adding it to his schema of 'dog.' But when Jack encountered a cat, he learned that his schema of 'dog' shouldn't include all four-legged furry animals, so he adjusted the schema to exclude cats.

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