In this essay we plan to discuss cognitive schemas. Firstly we will discuss cognitive and schemas, giving an understanding as to what they are, then we will be exploring the first psychologist Bartlett (1932) who was the first to understand schemas. Secondly we will be discussing self esteem, social identity and stereotypes and linking them to schemas. Then we will conclude with an overview of cognitive schemas.
Cognitive is a type of psychology, it is the study of thought. Thought gives us the abilities to perceive the world around us by sight, hearing, touch and smell, through our ability to reason, solve problems, use language, learn and remember and how to act in the world. Cognitive schemas help us to understand how we acquire, store, retrieve and use knowledge when limited information is available
The term schema is used to refer to a wide, variety of constructs, but almost all of them have several points in common. A schema is a general knowledge structure that is used for understanding. Firstly a schema is knowledge it is not what is happening in the world but how we interpret it. Secondly a schema is general; it does not encode information about a situation it is more about a type of situation. Third a schema is structured it not only consists of some facts, it is also about how the facts are related. Fourth a schema is used in comprehension, the structure of the schema includes how the knowledge is related in this type of situation, but does not include information about an exact situation.
The schemas stored in long-term memory include what is often referred to as scripts and frames. Scripts deal with the knowledge about events and the consequences. For example, Schank and Ableson (1977) referring to a restaurant script, which contains information about the usual sequence of events, that are usually involved when having a meal at a restaurant. In contrast, frames are knowledge. Structure relating to some aspects of the world (e.g. building) contains fixed structural information (e.g. floors and wall) and slots for variable information (e.g. materials). Schemas are important in language processing, because they contain much of the information used to facility understand of what we hear and read. Schemas allow us to form expectation as with the restaurant; we expect to be shown a table to be given a menu, order drinks and food. If any of these expectations is violated, if we are not given the menu, we will then try to catch the eye of the waiter. Schemas help make the world a more predictable place than it would otherwise be, because our expectations are normally confirmed.
Evidence that schemas can influence story comprehension was reported by Bransford and Johnson (1972). They presented a passage difficult to work out what schemas were relevant.
The procedure is quite simple. First you arrange items 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 lack of facilities that is the next step, otherwise, you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run this may not seem important but complication can easily arise.
When participants hearing this passage with the absence of a title rated it incomprehensible and recalled an average 2.8 idea units. Those supplied with the title beforehand “washing clothes” found it easy to understand and recalled 5.8 idea units on average. This effect of a relevant schema knowledge occurred because it helped comprehend the passage rather than the title acting as a useful retrieval cue. We know this as partipants who received the title after averaged 2.8 and those who received the title before averaged 5.8. It does not follow that schematic knowledge cannot influence retrieval process. Bartlett believed that the main impact of schematic knowledge was at the time of retrieval rather than during initial comprehension of a story.
Schemas play an important role in determining what we remember from stories according to Bartlett (1932) who was the first person to argue this theory. It was according to Bartlett, memory is affected not only by the presented story, but also by the particpants store of relevant prior schematic knowledge. Bartlett had an idea of presenting particpants with stories producing conflict between what was presented to them and their prior knowledge. An example of this is, people read a story taken from a different culture, and then prior knowledge may produce distortions in the remembered version of the story, rendering it more conventional and acceptable from the standpoint of their own cultural backgrounds. Bartlett’s (1932) findings supported his predictions, a substantantial proportion of errors were in the direction of making the story read more like a conventional English story. He used the term rationalisation to refer to this type of error. Bartlett (1932) also assumed that memory for the precise material presented is forgotten overtime; where as memory for the underlying schema is not. Rationalisation errors (which depend on schematic knowledge) should increase in number at longer retention intervals.
Bartlett (1932) obtained evidence for this prediction. However his studies were not tightly controlled. For example he did not give very specific instructions to his participants “I thought it was best, for the purpose of these experiments, to try and influence the subjects procedure as little as possible”. (Bartlett 1932) As a result of this some distortions observed by Bartlett may be due to guessing rather than deficient memory. Instructions stressing the need for accurate recall eliminated almost half the errors usually obtained. (Gauld & Stephenson 1967) In spite of these problems with Bartlett’s procedure, evidence from well- controlled studies has confirmed his major findings. For example Sulin & Dooling (1974) presented some participants with a story about Gerald Martin.
“Gerald Martin strove to undermine the existing government to satisfy his political ambitionsâ€¦ He became ruthless, uncontrollable dictator. The ultimate effect of his rule was the downfall of his country” (Sulin & Dooling 1974)
The other participants were given the same story only to have the name replaced with Adolf Hitler. The participants who told the story about Adolf Hitler were much more likely to believe that they had read a sentence “He hated the Jew’s particularly and so persecuted them” than participants who read about Gerald Martin. Their schematic knowledge about Adolf Hitler distorted their recollections of what they had read. As Bartlett (1932) predicted, this type of distortion was more frequent at long than short intervals, because schematic information is more long lasting than information contained in the text itself.
We have discussed how the schema can influence what is stored, now we will be discussing how stereotypes can influence what is retrieved. Given our limited cognitive capacity, schematic thinking provides us with a valuable mental tool that normally works reasonable well. But the use of this tool can lead to errors with serious social consequences. It is clearer in social stereotypes when a schema is simplified and applied to whole groups. It categories to simplify the complex world we live in, so that when we talk about Greeks, Jews, or African Americans we will talk as if they were alike. The schema approach cannot explain how particular stereotypes come about, but it has some suggestion for how they are perpetuated, one of the factors is illusory correlated. Many characteristics of the world are correlated, clouds and rainfall, accidents and sirens, as they go together more often than chance alone, but some of the correlation we perceive is illusionary. It is a creation of the mind rather than a real relationship of the world. Illusonary correlations come about because certain co- occurrences are readily noted and remembered than others; one reason is that they are the ones that are expected. Some evidence for this idea comes from a study in which participants were presented with statements that described members of a different occupational groups, for example, “Doug, an accountant, is timid and thoughtful” or “Nancy, a waitress, is busy and talkative.” Some of the characteristics were judged to fit stereotypes, while others did not. But the sentences were so constructed that each occupation was systematically paired with each kind of adjective, so that in fact no correlation was encountered (Hamilton & Rose. 1980)
Although illusionary correlation can account for some group stereotypes, it has trouble accounting for why the stereotypes are so often derogatory (Sabini, 1995). One clue is that we look at our own group, the in group more positive than the out group which we see more negatively. This favouritism seems to be in large part inadvertent. This was shown in a study in which participants were repeatedly exposed to pairings of pronouns with nonsense syllables. Some of the pronouns were self- referential (we, us or ours) while the remainder referred to others (they, them, and theirs). Participants were then asked to rate pleasantness of each nonsense syllable. Those syllables that had paired with self-referential pronouns were rated more pleasant (Perdue et al., 1990) Much stereotyping relies on what’s called the out group homogeneity effect, which describes how we perceive “us” (the in-group) versus “them” (the out-group) If we take the statement “All woman are alike”, members of the group tend to see members of other groups more alike than members of their own.
We have discussed the stereotype schema now we will move on to the self schema. The self- schema is theory of ourselves. We have several schemas about ourselves, including an ideal self and an ought self. When we focus on our ideal self, we become motivated to narrow the distance between our actual self and ideal self, with this encouraging a goal or promotional pursuit. When we focus on our ought self, we become more motivated to avoid harm, leading to prevention. But self schema differs between culture as member of individual cultures tend to describe themselves with traits (smart, athletic).and members of collective cultures are more likely to describe themselves with social roles (sister, student) unless they are made to describe themselves in different contexts. The self schema is activated when self-referent judgements are made. At the time of recall, the self schema activates a network of associations, and thus serves as an effective retrieval cue.
Self- esteem schema is not only just who am I it is also am I good or bad. It is about one attitude to oneself or ones evaluation of one self which may be high, or may be neutral, or negative. According to research high self-esteem is more likely to be the effect of positive life rather than the cause of it. Self – esteem differs from different cultures and context.
When discussing schemas we must understand what a schema is. Understanding schemas helps equip us with the knowledge of why we perceive the world, the people, the cultures and ourselves in the way that we do .Having full knowledge of how schemas work and also how different attributes e.g. self esteem, stereotypes and social identity can influence our schematic thinking.
The Reference Section
Colman, A. (2009). Oxford dictionary of Psychology, Third Edition. Oxford.
Eysenck, M. Keane, M (2005). Cognitive: A Student’s handbook Fifth Edition. East Sussex.