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Evaluation of Schema Theory

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Evaluation of schema theory


           Schema theory was first invented by Frederic Bartlett in 1932, and it is a mental representation of biased knowledge that is influenced by previous experiences. Schemas represent our knowledge, beliefs and expectations regarding the variety of views: individuals, habits, events etc. Schemas are so-called knowledge structures which represent one’s views regarding the previously mentioned categories, but this knowledge is influenced, by past experiences and stored in our memory. Different types of schemas exist, organizing information in different ways. Scripts represent information about the flow of events happening in a particular context (going to work/school), self – schemas represent our views of ourselves, how we perceive ourselves, i.e. what we perceive as strength and weakness. Lastly, social schemas represent the information we obtain about a group of people like stereotypes (Asians, blonde). Schema theory’s effects were examined multiple times view different studies, two of which I will be discussing in this essay. I shall evaluate the schema theory through analysis of Frederic Bartlett and French and Richards.


            Through Bartlett’s study “War of the ghosts”, the idea of schemas was introduced, making this study pertinent to the theory. The goal of the study was for Bartlett to find a connection the social and cultural factors have with schemas, actually the impact these factors have on schemas and therefore on memory disruption. The study went in the following manner, the participants, who were of an English background and were adolescents, were asked to read a story of an English background after which their memory was tested through serial reproduction and repeated reproduction. Both of these strategies asked the participant to recall the story six or seven times over various retention intervals. The serial reproduction involved continuous reproduction starting with a single participant writing the story on a paper which is then read and retold by another participant and the cycle continues in the same manner by six or seven different participants. The repeated reproduction, however, includes six or seven reproductions of the story by the same participant between time intervals from 15 minutes to as long as several years. The results of the story were the same for both of the strategies, the story was reduced and simplified. These changes represent the adjustment of culturally unfamiliar aspects into aspects which are more culturally reliable by the English participants, making the story more understandable according to past experiences of the participations, their schemes. Therefore, Bartlett concluded that memory is very unreliable since it is greatly affected by past experiences. Moreover, this study helped the understanding of the reasons why when stories are retold, they undergo some changes – due to the cultural effects past experiences, schemes have on memory. The limitation of this study is the fact that Bartlett failed to warn the participants about the extent to which accurate descriptions are relevant for this study. Besides, the age of the participants was not considered as a reason that it might affect the way of remembering the story. Adolescents have many new neural connections in their brain that are being established and we may assume that they have an effect on memory. Moreover, the experiment was not entirely controlled by the failure of specifying instructions and the disregarding of different environmental factors which may have a great influence on the outcome. However, this study contributes to the understanding of cognitive distortions in memory and the usefulness this study has on the understanding of how and why categorization of information occurs.

    Another study regarding the schema theory was performed by French and Richards in order to research the schemata influence on memory retrieval. The process of the research involved the participants drawing a sketch of a clock, with Roman under three conditions: 1. The participants were shown the clock and later asked to draw it; 2. The participants were told that they had to draw the clock before taking a look at it; 3. The clock was present in full view while being drawn by the participants. As a result, from the first two conditions, the participants drew the clock with the mainstream “IV” instead of the used one “IIII”. However, the third condition resulted in drawings with the accurate symbol. Concluding, this variance in drawing occurred due to schemes, previous knowledge because of the symbols of Roman numbers. This further supports the claim that schemes have influence in people’s memory. Even though French and Richards said valid observations in the dependent variables in order to achieve a cause and effect, these conditions do not reflect daily activities and natural environment. This research supports Bartlett’s schema theory providing more evidence about the influence past experiences have on cognitive processes, memory.

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