Introduction to Jean Piaget’s Notions of Adaptation, Assimilation, and Accommodation
The adaptability of a living system is in its capacity to find connections Yoga Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana Pose with its environment that promotes its survival. According to Piaget,14 this adaptive capacity can follow two types of mechanisms:
1. Assimilation allows a system to react to stimulation in at least a relatively appropriate fashion with the available means at a given moment. A baby can assimilate milk during the first year of life, but not pieces of meat. Psychoanalysts like Otto Fenichel (1931) used the terms introjection and identification to designate a primitive form of the mechanisms of assimilation that are felt as a need to totally or partially incorporate objects, persons, or experiences.
2. Accommodation occurs when an organism modifies an existing mechanism to adapt to stimulation that it cannot otherwise assimilate. An infant accommodates his gestures with objects that surround him, to make use of them more adequately.
A baby discovers that it can take a rubber ball and make it bounce by letting it fall. If he then assimilates a doll into the schema15 that he used with the ball, the baby risks being surprised by the fact that the doll does not bounce. He also risks making the discovery that he might be scolded if he uses the same schema with a glass because it will break. Therefore, the baby will accommodate the schema developed with the ball into three sensorimotor schemata: one for that which bounces, one for that which falls but does not bounce, and one for that which falls and breaks. This differentiation of the initial schema permits him to discover particular ways to use these three objects. The child might then discover that it is pleasant to sleep with a doll and drink delicious juice out of a glass.
Accommodation is thus an adaptation by innovation, whereas assimilation allows a schema to stabilize and refine itself in becoming more particularized.
A way to define therapy is to present illnesses as an adaptation disorder that activates forms of assimilation that are destructive to the organism16 An example that many travelers will recognize is that of the tourist who is traveling in an area where it is inadvisable to eat the local raw produce, because they do not have the antibodies the local population has developed. The desire to eat the wonderful salads that are presented is a form of destructive assimilation for their own organism The accommodations activated by the appropriate vaccines would allow for the pleasure of eating salads without harm to the organism Psychotherapy proposes analogous changes, but the targeted accommodations are not situated at the level of antibodies. Instead, they consist of activating the processes of mental and behavioral know-how that permit a process of social integration that is constructive for an individual organism