Bartlett (1932, 1958) is credited with first proposing the concept of schema (plural: schemata). He arrived at the concept from studies of memory he conducted in which subjects recalled details of stories that were not actually there. He suggested that memory takes the form of schema which provide a mental framework for understanding and remembering information.

Mandler (1984) and Rumelhart (1980) have further developed the schema concept. Schema have received significant empirical support from studies in psycholinguistics. For example, the experiments of Bransford & Franks (1971) involved showing people pictures and asking them questions about what the story depicted; people would remember different details depending upon the nature of the picture. Schema are also considered to be important components of cultural differences in cognition (e.g., Quinn & Holland, 1987). Research on novice versus expert performance (e.g., Chi et al., 1988) suggests that the nature of expertise is largely due to the possession of schemas that guide perception and problem-solving.

Schema-like constructs also form the basis of many theories of cognition including: Schank (scripts), ACT (productions), Soar (episodic memory) and Rumelhart & Norman (modes) as well as some instructional theories such as Bruner , Reigeluth , and Spiro .


Bartlett, F.C. (1932). Remembering: An Experimental and Social Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bartlett, F.C. (1958). Thinking. New York: Basic Books.

Bransford, J.D. & Franks, J.J. (1971). The abstraction of linguistic ideas. Cognitive Psychology, 2, 331-350.

Chi, M., Glaser, R. & Farr, M. (1988). The Nature of Expertise. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mandler, J. (1984). Stories, Scripts, and Scenes: Aspects of Schema Theory. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Quinn, N. & Holland, D. (1987). Cultural Models of Language and Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rumelhart, D.E. (1980). Schemata: The building blocks of cognition. In R.J. Spiro, B.Bruce, & W.F. Brewer (eds.), Theoretical Issues in Reading and Comprehension. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.