Schemata: Everything You Need to Know

This refers to the organization of knowledge in a way that it can be easily recalled even after not being used for a long time. People use schemata (the plural form of schema) to categorize events and objects based on common characteristics and elements and thus interpret and forecast the world. Fresh information is processed according to how it fits into those mental structures or rules. 

In cognitive science, it’s understood that humans retrieve knowledge from different areas to draw conclusions about non-evidential or missing information, such as during political evaluation or decision-making. Schemata represent the way in which the characteristics of particular objects or events are recalled, as determined by a person’s cultural-political background and self-knowledge.

Generally, the learner in schema theory actively develops schemata and revises them in light of continuous exposure to new information. Here, it’s important to note that each schema is unique and depends on a person’s cognitive processes and experiences. American psychologist David Ausubel argued that there’s a hierarchical organization of knowledge and that fresh information can be included in the already existing hierarchy. 

On the contrary, Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget argued that multiple bodies of knowledge are available to learners. He claimed that a network of context-specific bodies of knowledge exists and that humans apply these bodies of knowledge according to certain situations.

Schemata allow a person to perceive the entire picture of an object or event based on partial information structures. This is possible because every schema has a main category, a so-called slot that joins different semantic networks. For instance, the main category “house” stores the information “floor,” “wall,” and “roof.” 

Therefore, within the context of part-whole relationships, one can deduce that a house has a floor, a wall, and a roof. Also, each schema is built in a way that helps in simplifying drawing conclusions of a represented concept. For instance, if one knows that the object is a door, then the person can assume that it has a handle, a lock, and hinges.

Stereotypes and archetypes are two strategies of simplifying schemata that drive the decision-making process. Existing knowledge plays a role in cognitive processing because pre-existing schemata often need to be activated to develop connections with new information. For example, teachers activate students’ existing knowledge by reading the title and the heading before starting a new topic related to it. Another teaching strategy is using comparisons and analogies to activate the learners’ existing schema to help them draw connections among already existing schemata.

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