Perceptual Mechanisms & Cognitive Aspects of Personality

Perceptual Mechanisms & Cognitive Aspects of Personality
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  • 0:03 How We Learn
  • 1:10 The Role of Schemata
  • 2:16 Perceptual Mechanisms
  • 3:52 Perceptual Mechanisms…
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson explores Piaget's theories on the cognitive development of personality as well as how we learn. Specific focus includes the perceptual mechanisms of expecting, attending, and information processing in the context of Piaget's overall theories.

How We Learn

How do newborn babies learn everything they need to become functioning adults? How do humans organize the massive amount of data they acquire? And, how does that information and the way it is organized influence our personalities? The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who lived from 1896 to 1980, offers us an interesting explanation. Let's look at the overall theory to put perceptual mechanisms in context.

Jean Piaget was one of the leading pioneers in studying intelligence, cognitive development in children, and the relationship between cognition and personality. He postulated that what we perceive as someone's personality is actually the organization of their mind to cope with the influx of sensory data, integrate the information, and utilize the knowledge produced.

His was the first systematic study of how human cognition develops, rather than seeing children as less competent regarding mental abilities or that intelligence was a fixed trait. Try to remember your own curiosity as a child or how young children you might know work through new experiences and incorporate it into their knowledge of the world.

The Role of Schemata

The key to Piaget's theory lies in schemata, the plural of schema. More than just the basic information learned, schemata are the ways that information is organized in the brain; the way related concepts are linked, as well as cause and effect relationships.

As more and more schemata are formed, a child begins to understand more about the world, coordinate complex actions, and derive logical conclusions.

The process of building these schemata involves three steps:

  1. The first step is anticipation, where the child anticipates what will happen based on their current knowledge and schemata. If they are correct, it reinforces those connections.

  2. If it is not, we have the second action, accommodation, where the child must figure out how to accommodate the new outcome into their existing schemata.

  3. If they successfully achieve this, Piaget states that they reach a state of equilibrium, and that it is the drive for equilibrium that forces the mind to develop and grow schemata.

Think about all the times something unexpected happens to you. Don't you usually try to figure out how and why it happened, almost as if understanding this new experience felt absolutely necessary?

Perceptual Mechanisms

Not satisfied to describe just these steps, Piaget delved deeper into the very process of acquiring this information and the perceptual mechanisms, actions required to transform sensory information into workable knowledge incorporated into schemata. The three perceptual mechanisms we will focus on are expecting, attending, and information processing.


In the expecting perceptual mechanism, a person anticipates what will happen, or what an object will be, based on their sensory information and the related schemata they possess. Essentially, this is the anticipation step where they call up the necessary schema to relate to a given experience. Correct expectations reinforce the schema, while incorrect expectations require assimilation.


The attending perceptual mechanism is absolutely essential to learning and assimilating experiences into existing schemata or forming a new schema. The individual has to focus on the object, experience, or relationship between them in order to actually gain the new information. This is why attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be detrimental to learning.

Information Processing

Information processing is the perceptual mechanism that incorporates the new information into existing schemata or forms a new schema to incorporate the experience. Essentially, it is the series of logical steps and memory formation needed in the assimilation step of schema formation.

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