Piaget and Disequilibrium: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:00 Piaget
  • 0:34 Equilibrium
  • 1:10 Disequilibrium
  • 1:43 Groping
  • 2:10 New Equilibrium
  • 2:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Marquis Grant

Marquis has a Doctor of Education degree.

This lesson highlights Jean Piaget's theory of disequilibrium with a definition and application of the theory. When you are through, take a short quiz after the lesson that will test what you have learned.


Jean Piaget was a noted psychologist who devoted much of his career studying how humans develop from the time we are babies to adulthood. Piaget devoted a lot of research into cognitive development, particularly how people transition from one developmental stage to another based on information to which they have been exposed. He was especially interested in how our thinking patterns changed based on individual life experiences. Piaget came up with the idea that we build our schema, or background knowledge, based on these experiences.


Before we can talk about disequilibrium - the topic of this lesson - we have to begin with equilibrium. According to Piaget, equilibrium occurs when a person's background knowledge allows him or her to deal with most new information through assimilation. Assimilation is applying what you already know to new situations. Ever heard the phrase 'If it walks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it must be a duck?' In a very simple way, this explains the concept of equilibrium. You know a duck when you see one because you have seen plenty of pictures of them and maybe have seen a duck or two in person.


Disequilibrium, then, refers to our inability to fit new information into our schema. When you come across information or experiences that do not fit into your current knowledge base, this is where disequilibrium begins. What if you encounter an animal that walks like a duck and acts like a duck, but it has a long, furry tail? You know that ducks have beaks and webbed feet, but the furry tail throws you for a loop. This is where disequilibrium sets in because this new thing does not fit into what you already know about ducks.

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