Gureckis, T. M. and Goldstone, R. L. (2010) Schema. In P. C. Hogan (Ed.) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences.   Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.  (pp. 725-727).

A schema is a high-level conceptual structure or framework that organizes prior experience and helps us to interpret new situations. The key function of a schema is to provide a summary of our past experiences by abstracting out their important and stable components. For example, we might have a schema for a classroom that includes the fact that it typically contains a chalkboard, bookshelves, and chairs. Schemas provide a framework for rapidly processing information in our environment. For example, each time we enter a classroom, we do not have to consider each element in the room individually (e.g., chair, table, chalkboard). Instead, our schemas “fi ll in” what we naturally expect to be present, helping to reduce cognitive load. Similarly, schemas also allow us to predict or infer unknown information in completely new situations. If we read about a third grade classroom in a book, we can use our established classroom schema to predict aspects of its appearance, including the presence of a coatroom and the types of posters that might decorate the walls.

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