Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A-Z Blogging: A is for Adaptation

Adapt or.... do what? That's a good question. We know that one of the primary drivers of success and evolution in biology is adaptation. A living cell or organism that is able to change due to altered external conditions, such as pH, moisture levels, temperature, or to change their shape, has a better chance of surviving a wider range of conditions than ones that do not. This ability is often called 'plasticity' in the science community. Organisms that have greater plasticity within a range of conditions adapt easier and quicker. Those that can't adapt may die.

Extending this to cognition and learning, there's more bang per buck in the 'A' department. Think of a Triple-A Club: Assimilation, Accommodation and Adaptation. A Swiss biologist and psychologist, Jean Piaget, developed a fundamental theory for cognitive development in children, and which has then served as a general theory for learning, cognitive function and psychology. After all, we don't stop learning after reaching adulthood, although many adults are less adaptive to change.

Briefly, assimilation of new information into previously existing structures or schema coincides with accommodation, the formation of new mental structures when new information does not fit into existing structures in the mind. The mind's natural tendency then is to organize information into related, interconnected structures, where the most basic structure is the scheme.

For example, a person encounters a geco for the first time and incorporates that into his or her existing schema for "lizards". When the adult meets a rattlesnake  for the first time and learns that it is different from "lizards," he or she must create new representation for "snakes."

Thus, the internal world has to accommodate itself to the external evidence that it confronts and adjust to it. Or, in our principle 'A' word, it has to adapt. And we know that for adults, that can sometimes be a difficult and painful process.

For children, this process is much less painful because they are somewhat 'blank slates'. Assimilation and accommodation in young children is similar to writing new sentences on a brand new chalkboard. On the other hand, adults have dirty and cluttered blackboards on which information is often etched or imprinted with thick crayons and all of which complicates accommodation of new information. Adults take in new information or experiences and incorporate them into existing ideas, or change existing ideas based on their assimilation and accommodation of new information.

Unfortunately, most adults tend to modify new experience or information somewhat to fit in with their preexisting beliefs. Many times, if new information doesn't pigeonhole with preexisting beliefs, that information is discarded. That adult will not likely adapt to changing information and experiences.

Through adaptation, we are able to adopt new behaviors that allow us to cope with change. Apparently, lately in our social and physical worlds modern humans have lost their ability to adapt to new ideas and changes in our worlds. Perhaps that is why our behavior has degenerated to worse than children. Perhaps we can use the excuse of domesticated dogs, for which some biologists claim as the 'arrested juvenile state' of their ancestors, the wolf.

Perhaps that is why we humans have such a fear and hatred of wolves. We and they are less likely to adapt to changing environments and social upheaval like the coyote, who are very adaptable.

The coyote are the Tricksters; we can learn from them. ;)


  1. Adaptation and evolution are fascinating subjects, about which I know practically nothing! I do know, though, of that one Russian fox fur farm, where they bred truly domesticated silver foxes over a course of ten years, and have been maintaining a small population of domesticated silver foxes for breeding, furs, and pets for something like fifty years now. They published a study about it. I tried to read it, because FOXES!, but it was mostly over my head. I bet you could get a lot more out of it. I wish I could give you a link, but something tells me your Google-fu is probably pretty impressive. This is a really cool start to the A to Z challenge!

  2. Ah, your post brought me back to memories of my college days and my educational theory classes. I definitely am not well designed for adaptation; I hate change! LOL

    Great start to the challenge!

    AJ's AtoZ wHooligan
    Tales of a Pee Dee Mama

  3. Thank you both for your comments!
    Tammy, the silver fox experiment, begun by Russian geneticist Dmitri Belyaev, is famous for demonstrating domestication of a wild animal within 6-7 generations. It is indeed fascinating and provides the foundation for the hypothesis for the domestication of dogs. :)