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Evaluaion of the Schema Theory with Reference to one Study

Essay by   •  May 24, 2011  •  Case Study  •  1,135 Words (5 Pages)  •  2,776 Views

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The schema theory states that one's memory is a reconstructive one. That memory and other cognitive processes are based on the "schemata" which are preconceived notions and prior knowledge. They allow one to recall situations that rarely, change such as morning routines, by reconstructing the events from schemas. Schemas can however also have negative effects, through unintentionally creating false or flawed memories.

Bartlett, a British psychologist first introduced the theory in 1932 with his study on recollection. Subjects were told specially constructed fables that contained unfamiliar words and ideas from another culture. When asked to recite the story, the subjects usually told a very concise version of the story with some words changed into a more familiar one, such as "canoe" to "boat". The participants had reconstructed a version of the story, more to their understanding, with the aid of their western schemas. Bartlett's suggestion was that one stores only a few main facts and from that reconstructs memories. He referred to the process as "effort over meaning".

Another study was conducted by Loftus in 1978. Her study's purpose was to measure the reliability and suggestibility of eyewitness testimony. In the study 1242 participants were shown slides of a single auto pedestrian accident over the course of five experiments. The purpose of the study was to see how the introduction of correct, misleading or irrelevant information would affect recollection of the slides. When correct intervening information was given, the success rate of the participants was a high 75%. When the intervening information was misleading, the rate was only 41%. This shows clearly that eyewitness testimony is easily affected by misleading information. The test suggests that whatever information it may be that is given, it will integrate into the witness's memory morphing the schema of the accident. This would suggest that memory consists of the perception of the original incident and information picked up later. The study was conducted on students from only one university, so the results are not very generalizable. Also demand characteristics may have played a role, if the participants realized the purpose of the study. The ecological validity of the study is questionable as it does not take into account the emotional state of the witness.

A study conducted by Brewer and Treyins (1981) placed subjects individually in an office while the experimenter supposedly went to check on the lab. After 35 seconds the subject was moved to another room and asked to recall everything from the office. The office had been rigged to not only contain some normal office supplies, but also out of place objects such as a skull and a picnic basket. Results showed that the participants tended to remember the normal office supplies, while only a few noticed the peculiar objects. Also some participants remembered books that had not been in the office. The participants tended to comply with the "office schema", recalling only the normal things an even adding some nonexistent ones. This shows that schemas can produce faulty recollections of previous events, causing the consistent items to be incorrectly remembered and inconsistent items to be forgotten. The ecological validity of the study is quite high as the participants were not aware of the nature of it. It can be argued that demand characteristics may have played a part, if participants would have figured the nature out.

A common schema studied is the racial schema. It has been studied by Buckhout (1974) and Duncan (1976). In the 1974 study participants where shown a set of pictures, each for only a moment. One of the pictures was that of a scruffily dressed white man threatening

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