According to Piaget (e.g. 1972), development is driven by the process of equilibration. Equilibration is a balance between assimilation (i.e., people transform incoming information so that it fits within their existing thinking) and accommodation (i.e, people adapt their thinking to incoming information).
Piaget suggested that equilibration takes place in three phases. First children are satisfied with their mode of thought and therefore are in a state of equilibrium.Then, they become aware of the shortcomings in their existing thinking and are dissatisfied (i.e., are in a state of disequilibration and experience cognitive conflict). Last, they adopt a more sophisticated mode of thought that eliminates the shortcomings of the old one (i.e., reach a more stable equilibrium).
- Piaget, J. (1972). The Child and Reality. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books.
(Revised April 2010)