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Our mental architecture is shaped in a way that helps us to deal with our complex environment. Since much of our everyday behavior and many experiences are repetitive and routine, our knowledge of the world can be organized in a highly structured way. Schemas are networks of interconnected concepts that organize past experiences in long-term memory. By representing general knowledge about concepts, objects, events, etc. in a certain area of reality, schemas give a framework to interpret current experiences.
Schemas consist of different components, including specification about the relationships among the components and slots for all components that can assume different values, as well as default values. Normally, new information is processed according to how it fits into existing schemas, but schemas may also be reorganized when new information makes it necessary to restructure the concept. Schemas are thought to have an activation level that spreads among related schemas. The current level of activation influences how easily a schema comes to mind (accessibility). The more a schema is used, the higher its level of activation.
The function of schemas is to simplify the world around us. They reduce the need to remember huge amounts of information and influence perception, memory, and recall. In most everyday situations information processing can be done without effort, people can quickly organize new perceptions into existing schemas, predict new situations, and act effectively. But schemas may bias the encoding of information. Information that does not fit into existing schemas may not be comprehended and remembered, or may not be comprehended correctly and may be re-interpreted so that it makes sense. Prejudices are typical schema-based errors. Schema theory stresses the role that culture and experience play in processing information.
Schema theory has numerous implications for designing communication processes. Meaningful titles or visuals in texts, the use of familiar scenarios or examples, the use of analogies, or the use of multiple perspectives are among those tools that help to make connections between existing schemas and new information. ‘Media schemas’ may substantially influence the acquisition of knowledge from the media and attitudes toward media
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