What is assimilation?

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In the field of psychology, assimilation refers to a process wherein people gain new knowledge and add them up to existing information.  The concept of assimilation was created by known psychologist, Jean Piaget, who also became popular with his cognitive development theories involving children.  According to Piaget, assimilation is part of the adaptive mechanism in human beings wherein every new information that is encountered is generally taken in and incorporated with existing information.

The process of assimilation according to Piaget basically involves data organization or categorization in the brain called schema. One category of learning or experience corresponds to different types of information.  Whenever similar information is encountered in the present time, the corresponding schema or stored information will be activated. All related information stored in the past will then be integrated with the new details that are learned in the present.  There are times wherein new information is only added to the existing schema and there are also instances wherein some details learned in the past will be modified through the assimilation process.

Visiting a new restaurant for example is one basic example of the assimilation process.  A previous visit to another restaurant will be stored information that will be activated while enjoying the new scenario in the new restaurant. All new experiences like new food items and unique service will be added to the lessons or information of what a dining experience is all about.  Other examples of the assimilation process include learning a new dish to cook, or learning to play a new computer game.  In these examples, a previous schema or existing information already exists and these will be reinforced with new information through the assimilation process.  In this way, human beings will be able to better adapt or adjust to his/her environment especially when there are new experiences encountered.

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