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Cognitive schemes: how is our thinking organized?

Cognitive schemes: how is our thinking organized?

June 20, 2024

The concept of cognitive scheme is one of the most important of those that are used in current psychology, regardless of whether it is in intervention and therapy or in research. Thanks to him, it is possible to create theories about different behavior patterns, biases and prejudices, and types of beliefs that define each person.

In a way, each one of us we have our system of cognitive schemes , and these are expressed from what we say and do. They are part of our identity and the way in which we have become accustomed to "reading" reality.

In this article we will see what exactly that is about cognitive schemes and how they affect us in our way of thinking, whether consciously or unconsciously.


  • Related article: "The 10 types of beliefs, and how they talk about who we are"

What are cognitive schemes?

Part of our identity is based on the way in which we mentally organize all those concepts, beliefs and learnings that we use to live day to day. In fact, if the human mind is so complex and fascinating it is among other things because you can find an almost infinite amount of ways to generate interpretations about reality , each of them having a relative internal coherence.

However, it is difficult for the same person to maintain many well-differentiated patterns of behavior at the same time. To practice, in fact, this would indicate that there is no style of behavior, but what defines the actions of that individual is purely and simply chaos, the unpredictable. Reality, on the other hand, tells us that our way of being follows relatively stable guidelines . Who avoids talking to strangers is very likely not to go overnight to seek to be the center of attention, for example.


Our way of interpreting the world, our identity and social relations is not random and in constant change, but it follows certain patterns that give it stability in time and in the different contexts through which we pass.

Now ... what is behind these "rails" that seem to guide our behavior? Part of that "psychological structure" that gives stability to what we do it is derived just from what we think .

Normally we do not act in a way that goes against our beliefs, unless they force us to do so. And it is the cognitive schemes that are precisely the designs of that circuit through which our thoughts and opinions tend to go.

Move from one concept to another: a system of thought

Said in a summarized way, the cognitive schemes are systems of relationships between concepts that make it more likely to move from certain ideas to others. For example, if for us the concept of consuming animal flesh is related to the concept of "bad", it is difficult to see a bullfighting show think of the concept of "art".


Another example would be someone who believes fervently in the Christian god. For this person it is easy that behind the design of the elements found in nature see the hand of an engineer. Therefore, the concept "nature" will be related to a concept that defines only a part of what exists, and not everything, so it will believe that there is something beyond matter: divinity.

For an atheist, on the other hand, the concept of "nature" is much more likely to have an equivalence relation with the concept of "what exists", since for him there is nothing more than matter in motion.

To end, someone who has a very low self-esteem , probably, will have problems when combining his self-concept with the idea of ​​"success". That is why he will learn a style of attribution by which he will interpret that his achievements are in reality a simple fruit of luck, something that could have happened to anyone. On the other hand, it will also be more possible to interpret the misfortunes that occur to him as if they were his fault, reaching cases in which he takes responsibility for the attacks and attacks by others; This is something that is seen a lot in victims of mistreatment.

So, cognitive schemes make let's move from concept A to B more easily than from A to G , and in this way "networks" of strongly interconnected concepts are generated and maintain a certain coherence.

Cognitive dissonance

The fact that we live interpreting things through cognitive schemes has positive aspects, but there are also negative ones. For example, these psychological schemes they endow our mental processes with a certain rigidity . This, at best, may involve some difficulty in understanding other people's perspective, or possibly in carrying out creative tasks (research on creativity is complicated); and in the worst case, it leads to dogmatism.

However, there is another phenomenon that is also a consequence of the robustness of cognitive schemes: cognitive dissonance, a phenomenon by which we feel discomfort when holding two ideas that are contradictory to each other .

These are pros and cons that you have to know how to manage, since it is not possible to do without the cognitive schemes. What we can do is try to make them more useful than problematic. In fact, cognitive therapy, based on the ideas of Aron Beck, is based on that principle: to modify beliefs to make them serve us, and not us to them.


Piaget's stages of cognitive development | Processing the Environment | MCAT | Khan Academy (June 2024).


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