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What is a schema in psychology?

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Quick Answer

A schema is a mental concept that informs a person about what to expect from a variety of situations and experiences. Schemas are formed by information gained through life experiences. They are stored as memories and work as short cuts for similar future encounters, making them easier to navigate.

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A role schema informs a person what to expect from a social situation or context. For example, a role schema determines how a person behaves in his professional role at work versus his personal role at home. A person schema is a set of expectations formed based on someone's personality traits, his general character and demeanor that forms a prediction on how he will behave. If someone is outgoing, the schema formed expects outgoing behavior in his future encounters.

Schemas about self are self-expectations for behavior. The schema of perceived personality traits modifies behavior based on that concept of self. Event schemas, sometimes referred to as scripts, are powerful schemas of expectations on how events should play out based on previous experiences. Event schemas, like schemas for personality traits, are based on expectations of how to behave in a variety of situations, and provide an easier and more comfortable entry into new situations.

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