In the context of psychology, a scheme (often spelled "schema") refers to a cognitive framework or concept that helps individuals organize and interpret information. Schemas are used to make sense of the world and can influence how we take in and process new information.

According to Piaget, an action pattern or mental structure that is involved in the acquisition and organization of knowledge.

General Description

Schemas are mental structures that represent some aspect of the world. They are developed based on experiences and allow individuals to quickly process and categorize new information according to how it fits into their existing cognitive framework. For instance, you might have a schema for what a "dog" is (four legs, fur, tail), and this schema helps you identify and understand animals that fit this description.

Schemas are not just limited to objects or categories but also include our views on social situations, ourselves, and others. For example, social schemas might involve expectations about how certain social interactions should unfold, and self-schemas include our beliefs about ourselves and our personal traits.

Application Areas

Schemas are particularly relevant in developmental psychology, social psychology, and clinical psychology:

  • In developmental psychology, Jean Piaget first introduced the concept of schemas to describe the way children develop cognitive capabilities by building and adjusting their schemas.
  • In social psychology, schemas influence how we perceive others and interact socially. They play a crucial role in phenomena like stereotyping and social expectation.
  • In clinical psychology, schemas can affect mental health, particularly in how people perceive and react to their experiences. Dysfunctional schemas may contribute to mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Treatment and Risks

Understanding an individual’s schemas is important in psychotherapy, especially in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Therapists work with clients to identify harmful or inaccurate schemas that may be impacting their behavior and emotions. Treatment may involve challenging and modifying these schemas to better reflect reality, which can help improve psychological well-being.

Similar Terms

Related terms include "cognitive framework," "mental model," and "belief system." Each refers to ways in which individuals structure their understanding of the world around them.

Articles with 'Scheme' in the title

  • Behavioral schemes: Behavioral schemes refer to organized patterns of behavior that are used to represent and respond to objects and experiences. In psychology, behavioral schemes refer to organized patterns of behavior that people use to approach and interact . . .
  • Operational schemes: Operational schemes refer to Piaget"s term for schemes that utilize cognitive operations, or mental "actions of the head,” that enable one to transform objects of Thought and to reaso n logically


In psychology, a schema is a cognitive structure that helps organize and interpret information, allowing individuals to understand and respond to new experiences efficiently. Schemas can be about objects, people, self, or concepts and significantly influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Understanding and addressing dysfunctional schemas is a key element in therapeutic settings, especially in approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy.


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