Cognitive Disequilibrium

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Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development describes cognitive disequilibrium as a state of cognitive imbalance [1]. We experience such a state of imbalance when encountering information that requires us to develop new schema or modify existing schema (i.e., accommodate). Disequilibrium is often an uncomfortable state for individuals, thus we seek to quickly return to a state of equilibrium. If we encounter something in our environment that doesn’t fit our existing schema, we may devote our mental energy to developing a new schema or adapting an existing schema. For example, a child learning how to tie her/his shoes may face a state of disequilibrium as he/she works to physically maneuver the laces while thinking through the steps as he/she tries to develop a new schema for shoe tying.

Another option we have when in a state of cognitive disequilibrium is to discount the information presented in the environment and instead leave our existing schema unaltered. A child may refuse to att ...