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Define schema theory and identify the key concepts associated with the theory. Apply schema theory to engage in discussions and reflect on the role of schemas in shaping social perspectives.





How can this be?

There’s a man and his son in a car crash. The father is killed, and the son is rushed to the hospital. But the duty surgeon says: ‘I can’t treat the boy. He’s my son. How can this be?

Schema Theory

Schema are mental representations that are derived from prior experience and knowledge. Schema helps our minds to simplify the world around us.Schemas, or cognitive frameworks, are knowledge clusters stored in our minds. Functions of schemas: Save cognitive energy. It helps us comprehend new information. Guide our behaviorsMake predictions

People try to convert information that they cannot comprehend into a form that they can.

- Bartlett, 1932


  • Event Schema/Cognitive Scripts:
    • Describe behavioral and event sequences and daily activities.
    • This provides a basis for anticipating the future, setting objectives, and making plans.
  • Self-Schema
    • The information we organize about ourselves.
    • This provides a basis for interacting with the world.
  • Object Schema
    • Helps to interpret inanimate objects.
  • Social Schema
    • Refer to our expectations about individuals, their relationships, and interactions.
    • The basis of social norms and conventions

schemas and distortions

  • Schemas help us be more efficient.
    • By categorizing information, we can learn and think more quickly.
    • When new information fits an existing schema, we can understand it with minimal cognitive effort.
  • However:
    • Information that does not fit into our schemas is challenging to comprehend.
    • May lead to cognitive dissonance.
    • Information that is consistent with our schemas will be remembered easily, but...Information inconsistent with our schemas may be forgotten or distorted to "fit" our schemas.
    • When you can't remember an event well, you may "fill in" the missing details with your best guess based on your schema.

Brewer and Tryens, 1981Desk ChairSkullBooks

challenging schemas
  • It is proposed that intelligence and intellectual capacity increase by adjusting our schemas.
  • Schemas are dynamic
  • According to Piaget, schemas are adjusted throughout our lives by:
    • Assimilation: The adjustment of schemas by adding information to what we already know.
    • Accommodation: The process of changing an existing schema or creating a new one because the new information doesn't fit the schemas we already have. ​

    Schema Activation and ComprehensionBransford and Johnson, 1972

    Participants listened to a passage of information that was purposefully vague. There were three conditions: 1. They were given the title of the passage before the reading2. The title was given after the reading. 3. There was no title


    A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is a better place than the street. At first, it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it's easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Once successful, the complications are minimal. Birds seldom get too close. Rain, however, soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications, it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If things break loose from it, however, you will not get a second chance.(Nishibayashi, 2006, p.45, from Bransford & Johnson, 1972) its evolution.

    The procedure is actually quite simple. First, you arrange things into different groups. Of course, one pile may be sufficient, depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to a lack of facilities, that is the next step; otherwise, you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things. It is better to do too few things at once than too many. This may not seem important in the short run, but complications can quickly arise. A mistake can be expensive as well. At first, the whole procedure will seem complicated. Soon, however, it will become just another facet of life. It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one never can tell. After the procedure is completed, one arranges the materials into different groups again. Then, they can be put into their appropriate places. Eventually, they will be used once more, and the whole cycle will then have to be repeated. However, that is part of life. (Bransford & Johnson, 1972)

    This study demonstrates how schemas can improve comprehension and memory of new information because when our schema is activated, it enables us to relate new information to our existing knowledge of a subject. Title was "Doing Laundry".



    5.8 out of 18 points

    title after

    2.6 out of 18 points

    no title

    2.8 out of 18 points

    Schema, Stereotypes, and Confirmation BiasCohen, 1981

    • 96 college students watched a video of a woman having dinner in a restaurant with her husband.
    • 1/2 of the participants were told she was a librarian
    • 1/2 of the participants were told she was a waitress
    • After watching the video, they were asked to remember the details of the video.
    • Results:
      • Librarian condition - remembered the fact that she had spent the day reading, wore glasses, and liked classical music.
      • Waitress condition - remember she was drinking a beer and eating a hamburger
    • Conclusion:
      • This provides evidence that schemas simplify information and save cognitive energy by focusing our attention on information that is consistent with what we already know.

    Interactive Question

    Schema is not attributed to a single psychologist; however, the work of Frederick Bartlett laid the foundation for research. Piaget applied schema theory to his research of cognitive development.

    Evaluation of schema theory
    • A significant amount of research has supported the idea that schemas affect cognitive processes.
    • It helps understand how people categorize and interpret information.
    • It has contributed to understanding memory distortions and false memories.
    • It helps predict behavior.
    • It is not entirely clear how schemas are acquired.
    • Schemas cannot be observed. It is hypothetical.

      SAQ: Describe schema theory, with reference to one relevant study.ERQ: Discuss schema theory in relation to cognitive processing.Discuss one cognitive process.

      IB questions

      Thank you!Questions?