Schemas in Psychology: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:03 Schemas
  • 0:29 Types of Schemas
  • 2:16 Examples
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Clause
In this lesson, you will learn to define the term schema and will be introduced to a variety of ways in which schemas are used in everyday life. Following this lesson, you will have an opportunity to test your knowledge with a short quiz.


A schema is a mental concept that informs a person about what to expect from a variety of experiences and situations. Schemas are developed based on information provided by life experiences and are then stored in memory. Our brains create and use schemas as a short cut to make future encounters with similar situations easier to navigate. We will look at a couple of examples that will help illustrate the definition.

Types of Schemas

Schemas can be classified into different types. Let's take a look at four common types of schemas.

Role schemas help people understand the social context with which he or she is engaged and adjust accordingly to the demands of the situation. For instance, if Joe is employed as a physician, he displays his professional role in the hospital but likely behaves differently while with his family on vacation. As observers, our expectations about how he should act differ depending on the social situation.

Not only do we develop expectations about other people based on the social role that they occupy, we develop expectations about their behavior based on their personality traits. So, if Sally tends to be shy and quiet by nature, then that is how the people who know her expect Sally to behave at a party full of strangers. If she suddenly acts very outgoing at a party, that'd be a big surprise to her friends!

We also have schemas about self. Similar to the way we expect others to act in certain situations, we have expectations about how we should act in different situations. If I believe I am outgoing and people like talking to me at parties, then I will feel obligated to modify my behavior to fit this self schema.

Schemas for specific events are sometimes referred to as scripts. Much like schemas for personality traits, event schemas are based on expectations of how to behave in a variety of situations. They're based on our associations with how events 'should' play out based on our previous experiences with events we perceive as similar. Schemas for events are powerful.

Examples of Schemas

Most people who have ever had a job have had more than one job. Think back to when you started your second job. If you had a successful first job experience, then without even knowing it, your brain developed a schema based on what is involved in having a job. You probably knew that it was a good idea to go see your manager to get your assignments for the day, you probably had a sense that there would be breaks at some point throughout the day, and you probably expected to be paid at some point for your work. Those expectations about what to expect are a schema. Even though you had never worked a day for the new company you still had a general idea of how things should work.

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