What are schemas? Schemas are bundles of mental representations that help people to easily interpret and organize information. For example, a children’s schema of a giraffe is an animal that has four legs and a long neck. When the children encounter a giraffe, the physical features fits with his schema of a giraffe, he could then quickly conclude that the animal is giraffe without much thinking. It is useful for people to have schemas as they allow us to process a large amount of incoming information in a relatively short period of time by taking short cuts.
The concept of schema was first examined by Sir Frederick Barlett1 (1932). In his classic study, he told a group of American participants a North American Folklore “The War of The Ghost”. The folklore consists of concepts and terms for example spirits and kayaks that were unfamiliar to the participants. In a later unexpected test of recall, participants tend to shorten and alter the story to a slightly “American version”. Key local terms such as kayaks were recalled as boats, the folklore was altered into a more coherent version to the participants. The fact that the recalled story wasn’t equal to the original one suggested that memory isn’t photographic, the story becoming more “American” suggested that people recall with reference to their schemas. Recalling with reference to our schemas maybe handy, as we do not have to remember every single detail by brain. However, retrieving memory using our schemas might mean that the recalled events might not be accurate. This can be illustrated in two classic studies. The first study is conducted by Allport & Postman2 (1974). The researchers showed the participants a picture of a Caucasian holding a razor and pointing it at an African-American. After a while later, the participants were asked who was holding the razor in the picture, results showed that they tend to report that it was the African-American that was holding the razor. The participants responded in...
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