Assimilation and Piaget: Definition, Theory & Process

Assimilation and Piaget: Definition, Theory & Process
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  • 0:02 What is Assimilation?
  • 0:40 Piaget's Schemas
  • 2:00 Assimilating Information
  • 2:23 Examples of Assimilation
  • 3:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gary Gilles

Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.

Assimilation is an important building block for how we organize our learning. Learn what assimilation is, discover how it is used in practical situations and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

What Is Assimilation

Assimilation is a cognitive process that manages how we take in new information and incorporate that new information into our existing knowledge. This concept was developed by Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist who is best known for his theory of cognitive development in children. For example, when a young child learns the word dog for the family pet, he eventually begins to identify every similar-looking canine as a dog. The child has extended his learning, or assimilated, the concept of dog to include all similar 4-footed friends.

Piaget's Schemas

To better understand assimilation and the cognitive process that is involved, we should take a closer look at how Piaget believed we create mental structures to take in this new information as we are exposed to it. Piaget used the term schema to refer to a category of knowledge that you currently hold that helps you understand the world you live in and provides some basic guidance for future events. A schema describes how we organize information. We store information as a particular schema until it is needed.

For example, once you have been to a restaurant to eat, you learn that you are seated, look at the menu, order your food, wait, eat and pay for the food. This sequence of events forms a schema of how to dine out. When you visit a new restaurant, the schema that you've already developed provides a basic idea of how the new dining experience should progress.

Our schemas, and the behaviors associated with them, are modified as we add more experiences or information to them. For example, if your schema for eating out is formed from eating mostly at formal restaurants where you must make a reservation and wait to be seated, that schema would be expanded (assimilation) when you go to eat at a fast-food establishment where you order from a counter and seat yourself.

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