Highlight the importance of schemas in social cognition.
A schema is defined as a mental structure that provides a framework, set of rules or guidelines for processing information about any object. Schemas (or ‘schemata’) are the basic units stored in our memory, and function as shorthand ways of processing information, thus reducing the time and mental effort required in cognition.
In the case of social cognition, the basic units are social schemas. Some attitudes may also function like social schemas. We use many different schemas, and come to know about them through analysis and examples.
Most of the schemas are in the form of categories or classes. Schemas that function in the form of categories are called prototypes, which are the entire set of features or qualities that help us to define an object completely. In social cognition, category-based schemas that are related to groups of people are called stereotypes. These are category-based schemas that are overgeneralised, are not directly verified, and do not allow for exceptions. For example, suppose you have to define a group G. If you have never directly known or interacted with a member of this group, you will most likely use your ‘general knowledge’ about the typical member of group G. To that information you will add your likes and dislikes. If you have heard more positive things about group G, then your social schema about the whole group will be more positive than negative. On the other hand, if you have heard more negative things about group G, your social schema will be in the form of a negative stereotype.