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What Is Accommodation In Psychology?

In Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, accommodation refers to the process by which people alter their existing schemas or create new schemas as a result of new learning. This is part of the adaptation process. Old schemas may be changed and, in some cases, entirely new schemas may be formed.

How Accommodation Works

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development outlines how children actively construct their understanding of the world through a series of stages. One of the key concepts in Piaget’s theory is accommodation, which complements another important concept called assimilation.

Assimilation occurs when individuals incorporate new information or experiences into their existing mental structures or schemas. In other words, they fit new information into what they already know. However, when new experiences or information cannot be easily assimilated into existing schemas because they are too different or conflicting, accommodation becomes necessary.

Accommodation involves altering one’s existing mental structures or schemas to accommodate new information or experiences. It requires a reorganization of cognitive structures to adapt to the new information. This process allows individuals to modify their understanding of the world to better fit reality.

For example, imagine a child who has a schema for birds. They may initially define birds as creatures that can fly and have feathers. However, when they encounter a penguin, which is a bird but cannot fly and looks different from other birds they’ve seen, accommodation occurs. The child may adjust their schema of birds to include flightless birds like penguins, expanding and refining their understanding of what constitutes a bird.

In Piaget’s theory, accommodation and assimilation work together to facilitate cognitive development. Through these processes, individuals gradually build more complex mental structures and develop a more accurate understanding of the world around them.

Examples of Accommodation

Let’s look at a few more examples of accommodation to better understand how this process works:

Accommodation in Children

For example, imagine that a young child has a schema representing a horse. To her, a horse is a large, four-legged animal, which a long tail. The first time she sees a cow, she calls it a horse, since it fits in with her current schema. She then learns that this is a different animal entirely.

To accommodate this new information, she must update her existing schema for horses and create a new category for cows.

Accommodation in Adults

While examples of accommodation often center on children, this process also takes place in adults as well. Whenever you acquire new information, it must either be assimilated (or incorporated into an existing schema) or accommodated in some way.

When information is consistent with a current schema, it is usually assimilated. When something is new or challenges your existing beliefs, it is necessary to accommodate the information by either changing your schema or forming a new category for what you have learned.

Accommodation vs. Assimilation

So how exactly are accommodation and assimilation different:

  • Accommodation involves modifying existing schemas to fit the new information; assimilation involves incorporating it into an existing mental structure.
  • Accommodation happens when people encounter information that is new or that contradicts something they already believe to be true; assimilation happens when people encounter information that is similar to what they already know.
  • Accommodation tends to require more cognitive effort in order to modify schemas; assimilation involves interpreting new information based on existing knowledge, so it tends to be less effortful.
  • Accommodation leads to a more accurate understanding of the world; assimilation helps people understand new experiences in terms of what they already know and understand.

Why Accommodation Is Important

Accommodation is a crucial aspect of the learning process for several reasons:

Helps People Adapt to New Information

Accommodation allows individuals to adjust their existing mental structures to incorporate new information or experiences that cannot be easily assimilated. This adaptation is essential for keeping one’s understanding of the world up-to-date and accurate.

Facilitates Cognitive Growth

Through accommodation, individuals are able to expand and refine their existing mental schemas. This process leads to cognitive growth and the development of more sophisticated ways of thinking.

Corrects Misconceptions

Accommodation helps individuals correct any misconceptions or inaccuracies in their understanding of the world. By accommodating new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, individuals can refine their mental models to better align with reality.

Promotes Flexibility

Accommodation encourages cognitive flexibility by allowing individuals to modify their thinking patterns in response to new information or experiences. This flexibility is essential for problem-solving, critical thinking, and adapting to changing circumstances.

Supports Cognitive Equilibrium

In Piaget’s theory, cognitive development involves a dynamic interplay between assimilation and accommodation, aiming to achieve a state of cognitive equilibrium. Accommodation helps restore balance when new information disrupts existing cognitive structures, ultimately fostering a more balanced and adaptive cognitive system.

Enhances Learning Outcomes

By incorporating new information and refining existing mental structures, accommodation facilitates more effective learning outcomes. It enables individuals to build upon their existing knowledge and construct a more comprehensive understanding of the world.


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Malik, F., & Marwaha, R. (2024). Cognitive development. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.