Mentally Adapting to Changes

Updated: May 7, 2021

Yes, the year 2020 is quite eventful. The novel coronavirus is one for the history books. The world health organization reports worldwide, there are more than 50 million confirmed cases, over 1 million deaths, and 220 countries reporting cases. The story continues to unfold, and the final chapter is yet to be determined. The quarantine and the debates about masks, herd immunity, economics, vaccines, and politics remain unsettling for many people. Psychologist Jean Piaget proposed a cognitive development theory to explain how humans construct knowledge and use knowledge to adjust to the world. The writer discusses four concepts from Piaget’s cognitive development theory. The four ideas are schema, assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration.

Schema is how we perceive, understand, and interpret the world around us. The schema represents the building blocks of knowledge. In other words, our new knowledge, existing knowledge, and how we organize our knowledge to assimilate into our world. Our schema supports adjustment to new situations. For example, many of us have schema(s) about pandemics but mostly vicarious from the media, health experts, and firsthand accounts from those who have lived through pandemics. The pandemic has disrupted our lives. Some people will tell you they are exhausted from all the talk about the pandemic. In one such interaction, a friend declared that any talk of COVID-19 is banned between 8 am and 5 pm. Discussion of COVID-19 is only between 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm.


We face the prospect of modifying our schema about pandemics. According to Piaget, the process of using our schema to adjust to new situations is assimilation. Our previous understanding of pandemics does not match the realities of living with the restrictions of COVID-19. The lockdowns and the wearing of masks have become stressful for many people. The isolation from the lockdowns has affected some people mentally, socially, economically, and emotionally. The frustration experienced with COVID-19 is what Piaget referred to as disequilibrium (unbalanced). Disequilibrium occurs when we cannot use our schema to assimilate into a new situation. In COVID-19, the current schema does not match the realities of living in a pandemic; we struggle with the lockdowns and the restrictions.


The restrictions are challenging for several reasons beyond the lockdown and the wearing of masks. However, there is hope; we have an opportunity to adopt new information into our schema through a process Piaget identified as accommodation. Accommodation is helpful as we attempt to change our perception, understanding, and interpretation of living in a pandemic. Once we can adapt to the new realities of living with COVID-19 into our schema, we use the latest and existing knowledge to assimilate. We may experience equilibration (balance). The new schema may serve as a means of adjusting to living in a pandemic. The more rational information we accommodate into our schema about COVID-19, the more likely we can continually adapt to the many challenges associated with COVID-19.


Our schema may be subjective and influenced by our sources of information. New experiences continually challenge our schema. Therefore, we may consider several sources before deciding how to proceed. The American Psychological Association website offers information and resources to deal with the growing mental health crisis associated with COVID-19. The information in this post is not a substitute or replacement for seeking professional help. It is general information using concepts from Piaget’s cognitive development theory.


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