Schema Theory



This is a continuation of the brief overview of schema theory.

At its core schema theory uses the concept of a schema (plural: schemata) to understand how people think, analyze, and act on the information that is presented to them. The theory states that all knowledge/data is organized into units. Each unit is a schema. Within each schema information is stored – this information can pertain to anything.

In our mind a schema is a generalized concept or system for understanding pieces of the world we encounter. The information within your schemata can represent various pluralities of data – for example: events, sequences of events, actions, sequences of action, objects, the relationships they have with other objects, and situational knowledge. 

A simple example is to think of your schema for a car. Within that schema you most likely have knowledge about cars in general (need gas, have four wheels, you can drive them, etc.) and probably information about specific cars like a Mercedes (expensive, usually silver, Santa delivers them at Christmas) or Fords (from Detroit, American-made, probably a truck).

You may also think of cars within a larger context your life – you use one to get to work or class, you have a specific one, you probably want a better one, you got hit by one last year.

All these pieces of information come together to form your schema for a car. Every time you learn something new – self driving cars, a new Jeep Renegade, etc. You update your schema of a car.

Schemata can categorize knowledge at all levels – ideologies, cultural truths, knowledge about the meaning of a words, and even stereotypes. We have schemata for all levels of our lives and experience, to all levels of possible abstraction.

All of our general knowledge about these objects/actions are embedded in a specific schema in our minds. Our minds reference our schemata all day, every day – they’re mental shortcuts we use to understand the world.

If we see a car coming down the street, we quickly subconsciously recall everything we know about cars – don’t step in front of it, that car is going really fast, that looks like my friend’s car, etc. all this jumps to front of our mind so we don’t step out in front of it. If we didn’t have our quick reference schema of a car ready we’d need to take to time to think through a car every time we saw one.

Schemata are the cornerstones for our knowledge and decisions, without them quick thinking wouldn’t be possible.

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