Fundamentals of Schemas

Schemas may be described as the hypothesized knowledge structures that are organized and reflect one’s prior knowledge. Schemas represent plural; the other common plural form is schemata.

Within the sphere of psychology, schemas refer to the knowledge structures of an event or concept, based on previous perceptions of that event or concept.

Schemas have direct effects on memory performance. They function to control the encoding, storage, and retrieval of information. Again, they serve as frameworks for comprehending new data, guiding actions, and bridging gaps in information obtained from the environment.

While schema-consistent information is encoded and remembered more easily, it is also the case that people tend to remember schema-inconsistent information more easily. If information violates an existing schema, more processing time is necessary to process that information, which in turn leads to deeper processing and easier retrieval of that information.

Schemas can even lead people to recall information that was not initially presented. A study by Brewer and Treyens (1982) tested people’s memories for the content of a professor’s office. Nine out of 30 participants in the study recalled that books were present in the office, although there were none, as books tend to be part of a professor’s office schema.

Although schemas are often used in the context of the representation of information, people also have self-schemas.

Self-schemas are knowledge structures one believes to be true about one’s self. As this large body of knowledge is stored in an organized way, similar to general information, it is therefore referred to as self-schemas.

While self-schemas can refer to specific aspects of one’s personality, the integration of all self-schemas to represent all aspects of oneself is referred to as the self-concept. In other words, people’s self-concepts are composed of their self-schemas.