Schema Theory

The IB Guide tells us that cognitive schemas are mental representations that organize our knowledge, beliefs and expectations. and multiple studies have indicated that schemas influence memory processes in encoding, storage and retrieval. While Schema processing is to a large extent automatic and non-conscious which saves cognitive energy but at the same time can result in biases in thinking and memory processes.

Describe schema theory – handout

Schema Theory: google slides

Schema theory revision – graphic organiser using Andersen and Pichert example.

Bartlett, Brewer and Treyens, Andersen and Pichert, Loftus and Pickrell 18


Bartlett (1932)

The war of the ghosts story in full:

Neisser chapter: you could read the introductory chapter of Memory Observed: Remembering in Natural Contexts to support the importance of memory studies which have more ecological validity; this is where the refreshed interest in Bartlett’s work stemmed from.

Here is a select list of a few key studies for consideration:
The effect of context on understanding – Bransford and Johnson (1972) also see Townsend (1982)
The Office; effects of schema on recall – Brewer and Treyens (1981)
Carmichael, Hogan and Walter (1932): carmichael et al


Assessment Questions

SAQ: Outline/describe/explain schema theory with reference to one research study. (9)

Personally, I would choose Andersen and Pichert or Bransford and Johnson here, whichever you choose make sure you know the APFC details well and that you are able to explicitly link the study to key features of the theory.


  • Discuss schema theory with reference to research evidence. (22)
  • Evaluate schema theory with reference to research evidence. (22)