Evaluate schema theory
Schemas are cognitive structures that are derived from prior experience and knowledge, they are used to guide our behavior and to help us make sense of current experiences. Schemas simplify reality, setting up expectations about what is probable in relation to particular social and textual contexts.
Bartlett described how schema influences memory in his research with the ”The war of the ghosts” story. He found that in the process of retelling the story, three phenomena occurred: leveling, sharpening and assimilation, he also found out that pre-existing schema may lead to memory distortions. In his study, Bartlett told participants a Native American legend. The participants were British and for them many names and concepts in the story were unknown. One group of the participants was asked to use repeated reproduction, where they would have to reproduce it after a short time and continue reproducing it repeatedly over a period of time. And the other group was told to use serial reproduction in which they had to recall the story and repeat it to another person. Bartlett found out that the participants in both groups changed the story as they tried to remember it. The story became shorter with each retelling because the participants took out parts of the story that were not important to them. They also changed the order of the story in order to make sense of it using terms more familiar to the culture of the participants. Schema theory is testable, by priming one’s schema, we are able to determine whether the schema helps or interferes with learning. Brewer and Treyens research was also successful with their study where participants were asked to sit in an office and wait to take their psychological study. They didn’t know that they already began with the study as they were waiting in the office. After several minutes they were asked to go in another room where they have to tell them what they remembered from the previous office. They remembered several items that were schema congruent, for example, several of them remembered books although, there weren’t books in the office. There is a lot of research that has supported schema theory, there is also a biological research to support the way in which the brain categorizes input. Our brain automatically sorts information and classifies it in the same manner which schema theory predicts. Schema theory has been applied to help us understand how memory works and memory distortion. It has been also applied in research on depression, research on violence and bullying and in health campaigns. Cohen has argued that the concept of schema is too vague and hypothetical to be useful because schema can’t be observed. Even the use of fMRI simply show brain activity, they do not clarify what exactly the individual is processing at the time.
The theory helps to predict behavior, we can predict what types of information will be best recalled when given a list of words. Trends, such as leveling and sharpening are commonly seen in individuals recalling a new story. However, we can not predict exactly what an individual will recall. It is also not entirely clear how schemas are acquired in the first place and how they influence cognitive processes, it is not possible to observe schema processing taking place within the brain.