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schema theory

- encounters are rarely completely new
- the way we process information and act is determined by relevant previous knowledge (schemas)
- schemas are constructed through personal experience and taught beliefs
- fairly stable, resistant to change => helps us exhibit consistent behaviour

supporting studies:
- Bartlett (1932)
- Bransford and Johnson (1972)


functions of schema

- organise info
- increase information-processing efficiency
- gives prior info/expectations about people/events/etc
- regulates behaviour
- allows for consistency in behaviour (as schemas are resistant to change)


Define schema

cognitive structure that provides framework for organising info about people, the world, events, and actions


Bartlett (1932) - Aim

- to support the theory that memory is an active reconstructive process
- to prove that schemas influence certain details during memory reconstruction


Bartlett (1932) - Process

1. English participants were asked to read a Native American folk tale (War of the Ghosts)
2. Their memory of the story was tested using serial reproduction or repeated reproduction


Bartlett (1932) - Findings

- with successive reproductions, the story became progressively shorter
- distortions were introduced in the recollection of the story (e.g. hunting seals became fishing, canoe became boat...)


Bartlett (1932) - Conclusion

- more complex info = higher chance of distortion
- people use existing schemas to subconsciously fill in gaps in memory
- according to Bartlett, memory is an imaginative reconstruction of experience
- new information is strongly influenced by activated schemas


Bartlett (1932) - Evaluation

unsophisticated methodology:
- Bartlett didn't explicitly ask participants to be as accurate as possible
- environment not controlled


Define rationalisation

The process of making a story conform to the cultural expectations of the listeners


Bransford and Johnson (1972) - Aim

to identify the processing stage at which schemas are likely to exert influence


Bransford & Johnson (1972) - Process

1. Participants heard a long speech that made vague references with no context
2. 3 conditions:
- no title
- title before
- title after
3. Participants were asked to indicate how easy they found it to understand the speech, and were asked to recall as much of it as possible


Bransford and Johnson (1972) - Findings

- participants of the 'no title' and 'title after' conditions found the paragraph much more difficult to comprehend
- participants of the 'title before' condition remembered much more of the speech


Bransford and Johnson (1972) - Conclusion

- in the 'title before' condition, the background information given prior to the speech activated schemas involved with the subject
- this helped disambiguate the speech
- perceiving the passage within the context defined by the relevant schemas improved understanding.
- in the 'title after' condition, the context was given too late for participants to comprehend the material as they had already forgotten most of it


Strengths of schema theory

- lots of empirical evidence

schema theory is helpful in understanding how the mind:
- processes and stores information
- distorts memory
- provides expectations


Weaknesses of schema theory

- not many studies evaluate limitations of schema theory
- unclear why info that doesn't suit our schemas are forgotten or distorted
- unclear how schemas are acquired
- unclear why the rationalizations may be inaccurate
- unclear how schemas influence cognitive processes
- o unclear how people choose between relevant schemas when categorising people
- Schema theory focuses too much on inaccuracies of„ memory -- most of„ the time people remember accurately
- Cohen (1993): concept of schemas too vague and hypothetical to be useful


what to write when asked "Evaluate schema theory"

- define schema
- define schema theory
- functions of schema
- real life applications (e.g. eyewitness testimony, Loftus 1987)
- weigh strengths and weaknesses
- for empirical support, cite: Bartlett, 1932 -- war of the ghosts, and Bransford and Johnson, 1972 -- speech on laundry (title before, title after, no title)
- for weaknesses, remember Cohen (1993): concept of schemas too vague and hypothetical to be useful

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