How does the concept of “assimilation” relate to a person’s identity?
Assimilation is the process by which a person or group adopts the customs, behaviors, and values of the dominant culture in a society. It involves the adoption of a dominant culture’s norms and values, and the relinquishing of one’s own cultural traditions and practices.
For individuals, it can have a significant impact on their identity. It may involve adopting a new language, learning new customs and traditions, and adopting new ways of thinking and behaving. This can lead to a sense of conflict or ambivalence as one navigates their new cultural identity and tries to balance their own cultural traditions with those of the dominant culture.
At the same time, it can also provide opportunities for individuals to gain access to new resources and opportunities that may not have been available to them in their original cultural group. It can also facilitate social and economic mobility, as individuals may find it easier to succeed in the dominant culture if they are able to fully assimilate and adopt its norms and values.
Overall, the process can be complex and multifaceted, and can have both positive and negative impacts on a person’s identity.
Examples of Assimilation
Piaget did not believe that children just passively take in information. He argued that they actively try to make sense of the world, constantly forming new ideas and experimenting with those ideas. Examples of assimilation include:
A child sees a new type of dog that they’ve never seen before and immediately points to the animal and says, “Dog!”
A chef learns a new cooking technique
A computer programmer learns a new programming language
Another common example would be how children learn about different types of animals. A child might begin with a schema for a dog, which in the child’s mind, is a small, four-legged animal.
As the child encounters new information in the world, the new information can then be assimilated or accommodated into this existing schema.
When the child encounters a horse, they might assimilate this information and immediately call the animal a dog. The process of accommodation then allows the child to adapt the existing schema to incorporate the knowledge that some four-legged animals are horses.
Reasons for Assimilation
Assimilation plays a significant role in allowing humans to adapt to and learn about their environment—especially during childhood when we’re constantly learning new things.
Assimilation can be viewed as a mental shortcut that lets us process and categorize massive amounts of information at one time.
Of course, assimilation can have its drawbacks. There are times when new information doesn’t fit neatly into an existing category or schema in our mind. This may lead to errors in judgment; such as a child calling a skunk a “kitty,” for instance.
However, when the child is taught that this animal is, in fact, a skunk, the animal will be removed from their existing cat schema and enter a new mental category.3