The World According to You

CHAPTER 9 Schema (AKA – The World According to You)

To more clearly understand what we think, we’re going to spend some time on a psychological concept called schema. The fundamental concept of schema, though it looks a little different then, can be traced all the way back to the writings of philosopher Immanuel Kant. Frederic Bartlett and later, Richard Anderson, are responsible for popularizing the concept of “schema” as we understand it today. So what exactly is it?


Think of schema as a powerful lens through which you view the world, yourself, others….well, pretty much everything! A schema is a sort of “mental shortcut” our brain uses to maximize efficiency. Turns out, these shortcuts are more heavily influenced by what we expect will happen than what actually happens. We really rely on these shortcuts, our schemas, in our mental processing. They are a primary source of information when human “autopilot” is engaged.

You can think of your schemas as a sort of “rules for life” (or RFL) manual – written for you, by you! You are constantly consulting it as you make decisions, interact with your environment, and navigate your relationships. Not surprisingly, schemas can sometimes be as problematic as they are helpful. For instance, stereotypes are examples of schemas.

Now that you have a general understanding of schemas and their purpose, you might be asking yourself the age-old question: Where do schemas come from? As you’ve probably guessed, many of our schemas are firmly established through our experiences within our family of origin. Our family of origin consists of the people in our home while we growing up. As time goes on, we transition through various developmental stages and life transitions. As we do, we’re continuously accumulating a wealth of memories, experiences, and education.

Our brain is constantly working to synthesize the millions of pieces of information it receives. For the most part, organizing information in this way (the formation of schemas) is really helpful to us as we make our way through a complicated life. Here’s the catch though: In general, we tend to allow in mostly what supports our existing belief system and reject what does not. This can really throw a wrench in the works.

Brandee SmithComment