How do we organize the information in our minds? Schemes and categories
Every second that we are awake, our senses collect information from the outside and from our internal organs . All this information is not found in our brain in a random and chaotic way, on the contrary, our brain is a big association machine that organizes our perception of the world thanks to two cognitive structures: the schemes and categories .
Both are structures that associate and manage the information we receive, providing us with valuable representations and interpretations of reality, which are fundamental for orienting us and guiding our behavior towards the objectives we propose.
The cognitive schemas are the cognitive tools that people have to organize knowledge about a concept, whether it is a person, a situation, a role or a group. The human being has the need to synthesize and organize information. We are not able to integrate everything that comes to us at every moment, so we have to select, simplify and emphasize what is important. But then, under what criteria is this distribution of information carried out by the schemes carried out? Our interests, values, emotions and tastes are responsible for this simplification.
The schemes are activated by everyday situations. Stimuli activate the scheme, and once activated the scheme fills in the missing information or creates expectations about what is sure to happen or what is sure to be something. They are filters of reality.
Having patterns always implies having expectations about how people act and how different events will happen . For example, our scheme of a master class implies a series of expectations about how a class is going to take place, if something new were to happen during the course of the class, this new information would activate our attention and would be added as a possible new element in the scheme after a previous scheme break as this new information was not in the scheme so we are surprised and may not know how to react.
There are very schematic subjects who are guided by very few schemes and only use these few to organize all the information and to act. Ex: someone who relates everything to football, and acts always directed and felt to it.
The schemes of people to group together organised information on the different traits, objectives, motivations and behaviours associated with different types of people. Having patterns of people determines what I expect from each person depending on the label we have established on them. These schemes determine the type of relationship we have with others.
Causality patterns are c experience-based reticence about how certain types of causes interact to produce an effect. It is a way for our brain to establish associations between acts and consequences, between causes and effects.
The self-schematics are the r e structured presentation of knowledge about oneself . They can be understood as theories that the person has about him/herself in different areas. That is, cognitive generalisations about oneself.
Schemes of events or situations
Events or situation patterns are organised knowledge about a sequence of events that appear in certain everyday social situations . They impose a linear-temporal order when representing the sequence of interactions that take place on stage. They are shared by people who belong to the same cultural groups.
In psychology, when we talk about categories, we refer to the structures in charge of classifying elements according to their similarity . Categorizing implies simplification, since categories relate elements.
The elements that share the category are grouped around a prototype that is the element that best represents the category. The prototype can be defined as the most representative examples of the category, i.e. a set of characteristics significantly associated with the members of the category . A cognitive representation of the typical/ideal characteristics that define a category. The assignment of an object, person or social situation to a category is made on the basis of its similarity to the prototype.
As we move away from the prototype, members become less and less representative of the category.
The consequences of categorization
Categorizing people intuitively and without taking into account all the information available in the environment, can lead us to fall into the representation bias, which consists of classifying a person in a social category by the simple fact of having attributes that belong to the prototype of that category . Not all those who wear glasses are intellectuals nor all those who wear beards are more manly.
Likewise, according to Tajfel’s minimum group paradigm, the simple fact of categorizing someone in a social group is a sufficient condition for discriminatory behavior to occur and to accentuate the similarities between members of the same group and to differentiate between members belonging to different social categories.
Categorization is a process of social adaptation, but one of the most important consequences of dividing the world into categories (race, age, sex, religion, social groups) is that it leads to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination.
This gives rise to a conclusion that is as sad as it is real, and which was already postulated by Henri Tajfel in the early 1970s: discrimination is not proper to bad people, but is a human condition merely because of the social categorisation of others.