According to the constructivist model of the psyche, also known as Theory of cognitive development, proposed by the Swiss Jean Piaget, there are two fundamental concepts for the acquisition of knowledge in man, which are those of assimilation and accommodation.
- Assimilation. It is understood by the integration of new information that can be acquired through experience, that is, the incorporation into the psyche of external elements as a result of the circumstances of life and environment in which it develops. It becomes evident when human beings respond to novel or unknown events by turning to previous experiences as a reference, in order to find meaning.
- Accommodation. It forces the preexisting schemes to be altered as a result of a newly acquired information or experience, because these are not useful to face the new or unknown situation, allowing the accumulation of a new layer of experience.
Examples of assimilation
- A child sees a zebra for the first time, and names it wrongly as a horse, an animal more familiar to his order of experiences.
- When we start to learn a new language, we use the one we already use as a reference to “translate” everything to already conceived mental schemes.
- An infant receives a bottle for the first time and immediately tries to suck it, as the experience with the mother’s nipple has prepared him to relate to the object (with almost everything, actually) in that way.
- A child plays with rubber balls, until he receives a rag one. The similar shapes of the ball will allow you to recognize it as such, despite later discovering its differences.
- The Darwinian grasp: Babies hold everything that comes close to their hands, as it is an evolutionary reflex incorporated into the very early psyche.
- The child learns the concept of a dog from illustrations of large dogs or perhaps a large dog at home. Later, he is confronted with a small dog and mistakenly thinks that it is another animal, such as a cat.
- The Rorschach psychological test, consisting of showing the patient a series of ink spots, uses perspectives already assimilated as an exploratory form of the patient’s psyche: “what do you see here?”
- When the Spanish conquerors arrived in America, they described the New World in their chronicles on the basis of patterns already incorporated into their culture. That prevented them from seeing reality as it was, as they expected it to be like theirs.
- An eleven-year-old has an idea of a structured family (father and mother), which is in check in the face of the divorce of his parents, which subjects the idea to a crisis, since it does not fit into his previous concepts.
- A person with low self-esteem may interpret, based on his precepts of himself, a congratulation for his work performance as a form of pity or an aggression.
Examples of accommodation
- The same child who sees the zebra for the first time is struck by the fact that it is another animal, and the little one learns to distinguish it from horses, incorporating a new learning.
- When we have already learned a new language, their mental structures are in common management and we do not need to “translate” the thought into a previous language, but we can elaborate the thought directly in the new one.
- The same infant with the bottle eventually learns to hold it in order to suck it, something that he should not do with the mother’s womb, incorporating a difference to similar objects.
- The same child with the rag ball tries to bounce it and realizes that it does not react in the same way as the rubber balls. His concept of the ball is expanded to accommodate the new distinction between similar objects.
- Despite the Darwinian grasp, the baby will grow up and learn to discriminate what to hold and what not to hold.
- The same child who has learned the idea of a dog as something big and confronts the small dog will learn by being corrected to accommodate the new possibility of a dog within the larger category and to distinguish it from the category of cats.
- A scientific discovery often starts from ideas assimilated and accepted as true, but it can also force scientists to reorganize what they took for granted and to rethink previously learned contents in order to find out.
- The openness to foreign cultures passes through the accommodation of diversity in broader, more democratic and more plural world schemes, all of which poses a challenge to easy and preconceived ethnocentric structures.
- The same eleven-year-old of divorced parents, over time, will learn to accommodate more complex ideas of family that will allow him to maintain the bond with his parents even though they are not together at the time.
- With psychotherapy and inner work, the person with low self-esteem will learn to discern congratulations from pity and will have to internally accommodate the social reality of their environment in a different way.