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What Does Assimilation Mean In Psychology

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How Assimilation Is Measured

Schemas, assimilation, and accommodation | Processing the Environment | MCAT | Khan Academy

Social scientists study the process of assimilation by examining four key aspects of life among immigrant and racial minority populations. These include socioeconomic status, geographic distribution, language attainment, and rates of intermarriage.

Socioeconomic status, or SES, is a cumulative measure of one’s position in society based on educational attainment, occupation, and income. In the context of a study of assimilation, a social scientist would look to see if SES within an immigrant family or population has risen over time to match the average of the native-born population, or whether it has stayed the same or declined. A rise in SES would be considered a mark of successful assimilation within American society.

Geographic distribution, whether an immigrant or minority group is clustered together or dispersed throughout a larger area, is also used as a measure of assimilation. Clustering would signal a low level of assimilation, as is often the case in culturally or ethnically distinct enclaves like Chinatowns. Conversely, a distribution of an immigrant or minority population throughout a state or across the country signals a high degree of assimilation.

What Does The Term Melting Pot Mean

This melting pot theory is a common analogy used to describe cultural assimilation. It is used to describe how different cultures “melt” together to form a new culture, just as metals are heated together to form a new, stronger compound.

While the melting pot theory can be applied to any country, it is usually used to describe the American context. As a result, the melting pot theory has become synonymous with the process of Americanization.

While the melting pot theory suggests that people will integrate into the dominant society, critics suggest that this process harms diversity and leads to cultural loss. Instead, some people promote the idea of multiculturalism, utilizing metaphors such as a mosaic or puzzle in which people are able to come together yet retain their unique culture.

Simultaneous Assimilation And Successive Contrast

Assimilation effects have been seen to behave quite differently when objects are presented simultaneously, rather than successively. A series of studies found assimilation effects when asking participants to rate the attractiveness of faces that were presented simultaneously. When an unattractive face was presented next to an attractive face, the unattractive face became more attractive, while the rating of the attractive face did not change. In other words, placing oneself next to an attractive person would make you more attractive, as long as you are less attractive than that person. These effects remained even if the number of faces presented increased and remained over two minutes after the context stimulus was removed.

Relating these findings to the Inclusion/Exclusion Model above, in the Richard Nixon example, if Nixon is presented side by side Newt Gingrich, Nixon becomes more trustworthy, and the trustworthiness of Gingrich doesn’t change then rather than when they are presented successively and Gingrich becomes more trustworthy. These studies also supported the Inclusion/Exclusion Model. Contrast effects appeared if attractive faces were presented before an unattractive face in this case the unattractive face was rated as even more unattractive.

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History Of Cultural Assimilation

Even though cultural assimilation has taken place throughout history, most academic research into it focuses on the U.S. context and race relations due to its history of immigration.

That said, while it is a common process attributed to the States, it is still a divisive political issuewith some politicians and the public holding the view that European immigrants assimilated quicker in the past than minority groups are doing in the present.

The United States has struggled with steady and significant hostility toward immigrants, indigenous communities, and anyone perceived as an “other.” Today and historically, many White Americans in this country have viewed immigrants and ethnic minorities as a threat to the nations culture, fearing differences among us and putting direct and indirect pressure on those who do not conform to do so, including through threats and violence.

Some immigrants, ethnic minorities, and their children may have a desire to assimilate, but lack knowledge or resources regarding how to do so. Others may not have cared about assimilating, but eventually felt the urge or pressure to blend in. Regardless of their attitude, the pressure of cultural assimilation is ever-present.

Effects Of Cultural Assimilation

� Piagets concept of assimilation. Assimilation and Piaget: Definition ...

Cultural assimilation can lead to both positive and negative outcomes:


  • Immigrants may feel safer and a greater sense of belonging to the dominant culture
  • Immigrants who assimilate may experience a higher quality of living and better mental health


  • Those belonging to minority groups may feel a loss of identity
  • Minority groups may experience mental health struggles as a result of losing or becoming distant from their cultural strengths

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What Are Schemas And How Does Assimilation Play A Role

A schema is a cognitive framework or concept that allows us to understand the world around us. Schemas can be necessary for the learning process because they are like a shortcut in our minds to the information we need. A lot of learning employs schemas as existing belief systems.

Assimilation can be how we add information to the schemas that form our knowledge base. Through assimilation, we may add to our knowledge without changing our basic schema or belief system. If we were to develop new schemas or replace them with new ones through learning, this would constitute the process of accommodation rather than assimilation.

The Psychological Definition Of Assimilation

Psychologists define assimilation as one of two ways people absorb knowledge. It may be seen in children, immigrants, and anyone at any stage of life who wants to evaluate and absorb new information. Piaget defined assimilation as a cognitive process in which we incorporate new information and experiences into our pre-existing ideas or viewpoints.

There are two ways that we may absorb new information. One way is through assimilation, and the other is through accommodation, a cognitive process in which new information replaces old beliefs. Assimilation can be more common, especially in adults, as information is often processed based on our existing belief system.

We may assimilate that information into our current belief system when we learn new information. For example, perhaps you believe your neighbor’s daughter is a kind person. However, one day she throws a rock at your car by accident. If you assimilate this information, you might add the incident to your knowledge of the girl without changing your essential opinion of her. However, if you changed your opinion, that would be an example of accommodation.

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What Do The Terms Assimilation And Accommodation Actually Mean

Piaget was an expert in the field of child development and throughout his career he spent a great deal of time studying how children learn new things and make sense of their environment as they grow and mature. During the course of his extensive research, Piaget devised two terms, assimilation and accommodation, to describe the process of learning and adaptation.

Assimilation was the term used to describe the learning process through which a child picks up new concepts and ideas and moulds them to fit existing concepts and ideas. Accommodation is different to assimilation. Here a child is faced with new ideas and concepts, but instead of assimilating them to fit, he has to change his viewpoint to accommodate the new information.

The Baby As Scientist

Illustration of Schema, Assimilation, & Accommodation

As anyone with children will testify, young children, even infants, are just very small iterations of scientists.

They love to explore their world by manipulating aspects of the environment and employing a variety of tools to do so.

There is no doubt that these behaviors are intentional and serve a very focused purpose.To illustrate, here is an excerpt from Piagets notes while observing his daughter play in the tub:

Observation 147. In her bath, Jacqueline engages in many experiments with celluloid toys floating on the water. At 1 1 and the days following, for example, not only does she drop her toys from a height to see the water splash or displace them with her hand in order to make them swim, but she pushes them halfway down in order to see them rise to the surface .

Although from a superficial perspective this just looks like a baby playing with water, if we could peer inside the cerebral cortex, we would see a massive amount of neural signaling taking place.

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Process Of Assimilation In Real Life

Think of the most honest person you know. It could be a friend, a mentor, or a leader. Whoever it is, you know them as a person who regularly tells the truth. You know them to be an honest person with integrity and a good heart.

Now, what would happen if someone tells you that they stole a lot of money? Would you not believe the person sharing this information, based on what you know about your honest friend or leader? Would you explain their acts away as a mistake or an anomaly? Or would you stand back and change your view of this person you admire and know to tell the truth?

What do you do?

Do you push the information aside, allowing nothing to disturb your equilibrium?

Or change your idea about this perfectly honest person, so that in the future you may not believe that they are so honest?

Or do you try to fit the persons actions into their honest personality, saying that they made a mistake and had honest intentions?

This last option is assimilation, and we are all guilty of using this process instead of the harder, potentially more necessary accommodation process. As you take in new information and make judgments about people and current events, ask yourself. Are you changing your old ideas when necessary? Or are you taking the easier way out to stick with what you already believe?

Why Is Learning About Assimilation Vs Accommodation Important

For decades, psychologists have asked how we learn, store, and recall information. The earliest psychologists, the Structuralists, believed they could answer these questions by organizing a humans thoughts as if the brain were a big filing cabinet. This is still an analogy we use when talking about schemas, even though the world of psychology has changed quite a bit.

Jean Piaget was one of the most prominent psychologists in the study of cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology looks at how we perceive the world around us, remember information, or learn new skills. By learning about concepts like accommodation and assimilation, we can better understand how psychologists like Piaget envisioned the mind working.

Reflecting on these processes in our own minds can illuminate how we see the world vs. how others see the world. The child who was raised among friendly cats and dogs may see pets differently than the child who was taught to fear animals. If you grew up in a school with students of the same race or social class, accommodating information about people outside these groups might be a different process from a child who grew up in a diverse neighborhood. There is no right or wrong way to assimilate or accommodate information, but based on what information you have been taught, new information may lead to you different conclusions about the world around you.

Embracing Cognitive Dissonance

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Difference Between Assimilation And Accommodation


Assimilation is a process of adaptation by which new knowledge is taken into the pre-existing schema.

Accommodation is a process of adaptation by which the pre-existing schema is altered in order to fit in the new knowledge.


In Assimilation, the schema is not changed, it is only modified.

In Accommodation, the schema is altered a new schema may be developed.


Assimilation is a slow and gradual process. Knowledge is gathered for a long time.

Accommodation is a sudden change.

New Ideas

Assimilation happens when there are similar ideas and concepts.

Accommodation happens when there are conflicting ideas.

Canada 1800s1990s: Forced Assimilation


During the 19th and 20th centuries, and continuing until 1996, when the last Canadian Indian residential school was closed, the Canadian government, aided by Christian Churches began a campaign to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples in Canada. The government consolidated power over Indigenous land through treaties and the use of force, eventually isolating most Indigenous peoples to reserves. Marriage practices and spiritual ceremonies were banned, and spiritual leaders were imprisoned. Additionally, the Canadian government instituted an extensive residential school system to assimilate children. Indigenous children were separated from their families and no longer permitted to express their culture at these new schools. They were not allowed to speak their language or practice their own traditions without receiving punishment. There were many cases in which violent or sexual abuse by the Christian church was committed. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded that this effort amounted to cultural genocide. The schools actively worked to alienate children from their cultural roots. Students were prohibited from speaking their native languages, were regularly abused, and were arranged marriages by the government after their graduation. The explicit goal of the Canadian government, through the Catholic and Anglican churches, was to completely assimilate Indigenous peoples into broader Canadian society and destroy all traces of their native history.

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How Assimilation Is Used In Development

Teachers and instructors use the theory and practice of assimilation in a classroom environment. Whether a child is being educated in the ways of the world or an adult is learning new skills and information, instructors may often use the same methods to help students assimilate new information. There are several ways that assimilation is used in a classroom setting.

Staged Learning

Children often learn math and other subjects in stages. They may build on their knowledge at each grade level to acquire new math skills and principles. Because they are adding to their knowledge without changing the basic schema, they are assimilating the information.

A Child Meets An Angry Dog

Now imagine a little girl named Sophie. She has always been around dogs. Her parents have two large German Shepherds who do very well with her. Her grandpa has a Chihuahua who is also very mellow and child- friendly and Aunt Ellen has a cocker spaniel.

Shes learned from her exposure to these dogs that sometimes dogs bark a lot and sometimes they dont bark at all. Shes also learned that they can come in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and coat lengths.

One day, Sophie is playing outside when a man walks his dog past. The dog begins snarling and growling and attacks the fence. He is very scary.

Sophie has now learned that some dogs are not friendly.

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The Difference Between The Assimilation And The Accommodation Of Knowledge

by Terry Heick

Learning is a natural response to encountering something new.

Within Jean Piagets theories on cognitive development are related ideas on how children process knowledge. Piaget was interested in how children organize data and settled on two fundamental responses stimuli: assimilation of knowledge, and accommodation of knowledge.

Assimilation of knowledge occurs when a learner encounters a new idea, and must fit that idea into what they already know. Think of this as filling existing containers.

Accommodation of knowledge is more substantial, requiring the learner to reshape those containers.

You can think of these containers as schema. Schema are fluid and constantly evolving vessels students use to process what they see, read, and feel. The following from the University of Puget Sound is a simple example clarifying the difference between assimilation and accommodation of knowledge.

When a child learns the word for dog, they start to call all four-legged animals dogs. This is assimilation. People around them will say, no, thats not a dog, its a cat. The schema for dog then gets modified to restrict it to only certain four-legged animals. That is accommodation.

Background Knowledge

Students come to the classroom with an incredibly diverse set of experiences. This isnt just a matter of content knowledge or reading levels either. Students adapt their own thinkingboth in process and in formin response to the kinds of input theyve been exposed to.

Is Cultural Assimilation A Good Or Bad Thing

Development: Schemas, Assimilation, & Accommodation

While cultural assimilation may help immigrants and ethnic minorities feel safer or more accepted by the dominant culture, research into its effects has been mixed.

For example, a 2011 study into the effects of assimilation on immigrant adolescents found that those living in non-poverty areas experienced increased educational achievements and better psychological well-being. However, there was also an increase in at-risk behavior. In contrast, they found that it negatively impacted immigrant children living in poorer locations.

A different study into immigrant households found that brothers with more foreign names faced higher unemployment rates, completed fewer years of school, earned less, and were more likely to marry foreign-born spouses. As for current discussions around cultural assimilation, they tend to focus on the psychological welfare of immigrants.

For example, it can lead to a loss of identity and cause significant psychological stress on immigrants. These can range from homesickness to depression and severe mental illness.

In addition, the act of migration can cause an individual to experience cultural bereavement a form of grief caused by the loss of ones culture and, thus, a core aspect of their identity. This can be further exacerbated by the loss of key cultural markers such as language, traditions, customs, and food, which can also intensify the alienation felt by an individual when trying to relate to someone from the country of their origin.

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How Does Assimilation Psychology Work

Assimilation psychology, according to Piaget, is the easiest way that people adapt to new experiences.

The reason assimilation is believed to be the easiest is because it requires very little adjustment. In this method of adaptation, we simply apply new knowledge to that which is already known. Because it has to fit with what is currently known, though, how we adapt is based entirely upon our current state of mind.

For example, lets say that your co-worker has a son who seems well adjusted and kind. One day, though, you see the boy at a local park throwing rocks at a birds nest.

To you, this behavior seems very out of character. Your co-worker has always bragged about their childs sensitivity and and care and concern for animals and other people, but today he seems to be trying to harm animals.

Assimilation psychology takes place in how we process this information.

If you already have doubts about your co-workers honesty, you might determine that they have overinflated the good merits of the child. If you trust your co-worker, you might determine that the child is simply having a bad day or has picked up a bad habit by observing another child.

You might even work out that the child is still very kind and well-mannered, but simply has a mischievous aspect of his personality. In this case, you could find the behavior funny because it is so out of character that it is almost endearing.

This is how adaptation works based on our previous knowledge or experiences.

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