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Cognitive Style

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Dr. Richard W. Scholl
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Cognitive Schema- the organization of knowledge about a particular concept. The schema contains the features or attributes that are associated with a category membership. (Sims & Lorenzi, 1992)

Types of Schema

Types of schema include:

Person Schema. Schema about the attributes (skills, competencies, values) of a particular individual. This often takes the form the personality we attribute to that person.

Event schema (cognitive scripts). These are processes, practices, or ways in which we typically approach tasks and problems. They are the programs we call upon when faced with a certain stimulus. These are behaviorally oriented

Role schema. These schema contain sets of role expectations, that is, how we expect an individual occupying a certain role to behavior.

Self-schema. Generalizations about the self abstracted from the present situation and past experiences. This is essentially one's self concept which is in essence perceptions of oneself in terms of traits, competencies, and values (see Laura's notes on Self Concept Based Motivation). Self-efficacy is a type of self schema that applies to a particular task.

Functions of Schema

They are used frequently for the following:

Evaluation. When we evaluate individuals occupying a certain role (e.g., doctor, accountant, actor, artist), we compare their behavior to our culturally derived role schema for that role.

Role playing. In assuming a certain role, the role schema often becomes our scripts as to how to behave.

Identification. We often identify and categorize individuals by the role they assume. We use these role schema to help us place individuals into a certain category by matching their observed behavior with our role schema.

Prediction. Once an individual is placed into a category (role) we tend to assume he or she will behave in accordance with the role schema and use this as basis to predict future behavior of this person.

The Use of Schema in Information Processing

Schema organize knowledge about specific stimulus domains and guide both the processing of new information and the retrieval of stored information. They can be viewed as structured expectations about people, situations, and events. Types of Information Processing

  • Data-driven or stimulus-driven processing occurs when no schema exist form which to process information. The individual examines all information and proceeds through a careful decision making process.
  • Schema-driven processing occurs when an individual responds to a stimulus (decision making or problem solving situation) by evoking a programmed response or behavior script (schema). This is done without extensive data collection or analysis.

Script- a type of schema involving behavior or action.

Schema Development

Schema are constructed through experiences with specific instances. They start as a simple network and develop into more complex structures. Mature schemas are more extensive, more organized, and contain more characteristics that do less mature schemas. Cognitive scripts can be acquired either directly or indirectly. Direct- going through a process and confirmation through repetition. Indirect- Stories, myths, films, movies, conversations, role models. Behavioral scripts are learned through organizational socialization and on the job experience

Schema and Culture

A group script can be viewed as a consensual cognitive structure that, when activated, establishes the expectations and sequences of events for a given situation. Organizational culture can be viewed a set of consensual schema, through the development of shared understanding of how things are done. One function of a common organizational culture is to create fairly similar mental models for organizational members, which promote efficiency of operations and communications The establishment of rigid cognitive schema can retard organizations when they thwart the organization's ability to change in response to a changing environment. Socialization provides the means whereby new members of an organization develop consensual schema or scripts

Schema and Decision Making

An individual's schema can range between relatively flexible and relatively rigid. A schema is said to be relative rigid then: The individual no long questions the relationship between the enacted schema (process, work method, plan) and the intended outcome. Even negative feedback relative to expected outcome does not lead to a questioning of the schema. This tends to block accurate diagnosis of problem causes. The stimulus that enacts the schema is very generalized. The individual does not see or does not make distinction among similar but relatively different situations (stimuli) and thus uses the same plan or work method (schema) as a response to a wide variety of problem situations. This presents a performance problem when the situations actually require a unique response. Rigid schema, or rigid mental models, tend to be associated with a strong Judging (J) cognitive style, while individuals with a strong Perceiving (P) cognitive style tend to develop flexible mental models.


Sims, H. P., Jr., & Lorenzi, P. 1992. The new leadership paradigm: Social learning and cognition in organizations. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.