What is cognitive schemata?

During our first years of life, through our learning, observation and exploration, and during our experiences we unconsciously construct our core beliefs about life, which are more or less rooted in safe mental constructs. the so-called schemes. We will give you the answer in the next article: What are cognitive schemata?

What is cognitive schemata?

Scheme, mental constructs used by a person in social sciences to organize information and direct cognitive processes and actions. Schemas reflect the ways in which, as defined by self-knowledge and cultural-political context, characteristics of certain events or artifacts are remembered.

Part of our identity is based on the way in which we mentally organize all those concepts, beliefs and learnings that we use to live day to day. 

In fact, if the human mind is so complex and fascinating, it is among other things because it can find an almost infinite number of ways to generate interpretations about reality, each of them having a relative internal coherence.

However, it is difficult for the same person to maintain many well-differentiated behavior patterns at the same time. In practice, in fact, this would indicate that there is no style of behavior, but that what defines the actions of that individual is purely chaos, the unpredictable.

Reality, on the other hand, tells us that our way of being follows relatively stable guidelines. Whoever avoids talking to strangers is very likely not to happen overnight to seek to be the center of attention.


Our way of interpreting the world, our identity and social relationships is not random and in constant change, but rather follows certain patterns that give it stability over time and in the different contexts through which we pass.

Now, what is behind these “rails” that seem to guide our behavior? Part of that “psychological structure” that gives stability to what we do is derived precisely from what we think.

We normally do not act in a way that goes against our beliefs, unless we are forced to do so. And they are the cognitive schemes, they are precisely the designs of that circuit through which our thinking and our opinions usually go.

How are mental schemas created?

The concept of schema was developed by the Swiss psychologist and biologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980), whose theory of cognitive development in human childhood is based on two basic innate processes: assimilation and accommodation.

According to Piaget, human beings are born with a repertoire of reflex behaviors, inherited, which after exercising them become mental schemas that serve as the basis for developing subsequent behaviors, and then they are continuously modified according to lived experiences.

Through certain actions carried out by the infant that are productive for him, his schemes are developed, he assimilates or internalizes how to behave in the face of a particular event or object. 

Little by little, through experience, the child will go from one scheme to another, modifying them to be able to incorporate new objects and abilities, accommodating these new schemes or cognitive structures to new situations.

Accommodation consists of the transformation of the learner’s cognitive and behavioral scheme to include new elements and experiences that were unknown to him until then. 

From these procedures responsible for the development of behavior, assimilation and accommodation, the adaptive process is established between the child’s scheme and the environment in which he lives to try to control his environment, with the aim of survival.

Move from one concept to another?

In short, cognitive schemas are systems of relationships between concepts that make there a greater probability of passing from certain ideas to others. For example, if for us the concept of consuming animal meat is related to the concept of “bad”, it is difficult for us to think about the concept of “art” when we see a bullfighting show.


Another example would be someone who fervently believes in the Christian god. It is easy for this person to see the hand of an engineer behind the design of the elements found in nature. 

Therefore, the concept “nature” will be related to a concept that defines only a part of what exists, and not everything, so you will believe that there is something beyond matter: divinity.

For an atheist, on the other hand, the concept of “nature” is much more likely to be equivalent to the concept of “what exists”, since for him there is nothing but matter in motion.

Finally, someone with very low self-esteem will likely have trouble combining their self-concept with the idea of ​​”success.” That is why you will learn an attribution style by which you will interpret your achievements as a mere fruit of luck, something that could have happened to anyone.

On the other hand, it will also be more possible for him to interpret the misfortunes that happen to him as if they were his fault, reaching cases in which he takes responsibility for the aggressions and attacks on the part of others; This is something that is seen a lot in victims of abuse.

Thus, cognitive schemata make us move from concept A to B more easily than from A to G, and in this way “networks” of strongly interconnected concepts are generated that maintain a certain coherence.

What is cognitive dissonance?

The fact that we live interpreting things through cognitive schemes has positive aspects, but there are also negative aspects. For example, these psychological schemes endow our mental processes with a certain rigidity.

This, in the best of cases, can lead to some difficulty in understanding other people’s perspective, or, possibly, in carrying out creative tasks (researching creativity is complicated); and at worst, it leads to dogmatism.

However, there is another phenomenon that is also a consequence of the solidity of cognitive schemas: cognitive dissonance, a phenomenon for which we feel discomfort when holding two ideas that are contradictory to each other.

These are pros and cons that must be managed, since it is not possible to do without cognitive schemes. What we can do is try to make them more useful than problematic.In fact, cognitive therapy, based on the ideas of Aron Beck, is based on that principle: modify beliefs to make them serve us, and not us.

How are cognitive schemas formed?

Schemas are made up of concepts (words like ‘politics’, ‘education’ or ‘shame’) that are ideas or symbols that represent a set of related ideas in our mental information processing system. 

Through our learning we are forming the different concepts, grouping the objects that share similar characteristics. And little by little we are organizing and integrating concepts of a word in concepts of several words that form sentences, and later in increasingly broad concepts that form paragraphs, arguments, statements. 

Different approaches are integrated into mental models that are shaping our schemes, the basic units to understand and interpret the world in our mental language. 

The schema is the organized representation of our experience based on the repetition of similar events, which finally established the patterns that organize the human personality. Schemas are the fundamental units of the personality; the way we face different life situations based on our mental schemes largely determined by our personality.


Are mental schemas changing according to our experience?

To interact with our environment we need to develop patterns or ideas about it. These representations of our reality can allude to both major issues, such as the physical, biological or social world, as well as more banal issues such as the operation of a door, the organization of a sporting event or the most appropriate behavior for different social contexts.

These representations or particular models of the world harbor both the dependencies we have with the environment, as well as the impediments that reality places on us to use our schemes, our social skills; all our knowledge and experience is installed and arranged in these mental schemes, which allow us to understand reality and intervene on it.

But the different schemes or mental models do not uniformly cover reality, in fact they may be partially contradictory to each other, and they are modified as we expand our experience, substituting some schemes for others with better explanatory power.

Often people interpret the same fact in a contradictory way depending on our age, religion, sex or nationality, without actually activating a rational scheme that facilitates a logical explanation between the fact and its context. Different schemes cause readers of the same book to understand it differently.

What is cognitive psychology?

Cognitive psychology works essentially with the thoughts and mental schemes of the individual that originate and direct their behavior. We rely excessively on our ingrained beliefs because we find it annoying to question ourselves, the mental effort of keeping our schemas in storage is less than the laborious process of changing them. 

We pay attention to those parts of reality that coincide with our basic motivations; that is, our schemes order us to perceive what is convenient for us. We also more easily remember everything that accommodates our stored beliefs, our current schemas.


if I consider myself incompetent, I will remember better the situations in which I felt useless than in those in which I was competent or skilled. But we have the power to change our way of thinking and to create more beneficial schemes that allow us to evolve towards a more satisfactory reality adapted to our life project. 

For this we must want to change our way of thinking about certain aspects that disturb us, with will, but also being aware that the change will cause anxiety because it will shake our identity. 

We must be willing to renounce the definition that we have built of ourselves over the years in certain contexts, and become aware that the anxiety and discomfort at the beginning are necessary to remove our schemes and change the negative thoughts, responsible for destructive emotions, for other schemes resistant to psychological illnesses.

Faqs: What is cognitive schemata?

What is an example of a schema?

For example, your schema for your friend might include information about her appearance, her behaviors, her personality, and her preferences. Social schemas include general knowledge about how people behave in certain social situations.

What is the meaning of schemata?

Schemata are generic knowledge-representing cognitive constructs, i.e. structures that contain no information about individual entities, instances or occurrences, but rather about their general nature.

What are the 3 types of schema theory?

Schema can be classified into three types: linguistic schema, content schema and formal schema . 

How do schemas work?

Since schemes are based on our prior expectations and social knowledge, they have been described as ‘theory-driven’ frameworks that offer experience to organization. Schemas help us easily and economically process information and promote memory retrieval.

Why is schema important in learning?

Schemes allow learners to reason about and perceive unfamiliar learning circumstances in terms of their generalized experience. Schema-based learning in cognitive and educational psychology is based on collecting and using expert-generated schemas as teaching and learning frameworks.

In the previous article we gave an answer to “What are cognitive schamata?”. We found out that during our first years of life, through our learning, observation and exploration, and during our experiences we unconsciously construct our core beliefs about life, which are more or less rooted in safe mental constructs. the so-called schemes.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


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Bandura, A. (1977b). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavior change. Psychological Review, 84, 191 – 215.

Drake, R. E., and Cotton, P. G. (1986). Depression, hopelessness, and suicide in chronic schizophrenics. British Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 554 – 559.