A mental structure that represents an aspect of the world, and streamlines information processing by categorizing objects. Example: A child’s rudimentary schema for “dog” includes all four-legged animals; upon seeing a cow, he calls it a “dog”. Eventually, as the child gains more life experience, the “dog” schema is refined to include a variety of canine types (but not cows).
This mental organization system is a way of processing the complexities of reality and making them easy to understand. This system gives us the ability to respond in a situation where an item is new to us, see something in a new way/apply prior knowledge to it, or simply reconcile its existance. For instance, the previously mentioned child could now use the fact that a four-legged animal is a “dog” to realize that animals are typically nice creatures (unless they had a bad experience in which case it would have the opposite effect).
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Jul 2010