Axelrod’s schema theory suggests that a message is sent and then received by the audience, the audience evaluates this message based on information currently available to the audience e.g. past experience, redundancy, and relationship to currently understood “truths”. This application of audience knowledge compares what the audience perceives to what the audience knows to be true of the message.
This theory is one of many that explains and helps us interpret messages sent by the media. The theory was originally applied to messages sent by news media but its application has been extended to cover various interpretations of messages which can extend so far as stereotype research as well as agenda setting.
Schemas are not necessarily misinterpretations of information but a tool we use to perceive the world and understand information.
In his article, Dixon highlights the idea of schemas, or schematic representations, which are an accurate version of stereotypes, representing the average member of said group. The author suggests that the formation of stereotypes originates from an ambiguous situation in which the subject relies on subtle cues to make judgments.
- Axelrod, R. (1973). Schema theory: An information processing model of perception and cognition. American Political Science Review, 67(Spring), 1251. (Links to JSTOR, Article abstract)
- Dixon, T. L. (2006). Schemas as average conceptions: Skin tone, television news exposure, and culpability judgments. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 83(1), 131-149. (Links to Full Article PDF)
- Graber, D. (1984). Processing the news: How people tame the information tide. New York: Longman.
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