Schema theory and attribution theory budding heads.

Schema theory suggests that humans are active processors of information. Every waking moment we are exposed to different stimulus and we make decisions on how to respond and not respond; but if each of those were looked at individually without making reference to prior experience it would be difficult to understand or build a knowledge base. The development of our knowledge and teaching foundations rely on schematic processing and thinking.


Schematic thinking stems from the need to organize and build on our knowledge in a cognitively economical manner; we are cognitive misers. The process of knowing (cognition) is developed by the creation of schemas and information indexing which allows us to make generalizations and not be hindered by the varying information or situations we encounter. In order to get through information we rely on these schemas or general concepts. Schemas allow us to more effectively communicate and understand one another.

Attribution theory is focused on how people process events and how this relates to their thinking and behavior. More specifically it is concerned with what we attribute as the causal reason to certain behaviors and outcomes. Building on Weiner’s distinction of internal and external attribution we are able to identify a distinction on how people’s actions are explained by linking cause to factors within a person (internal) or on external ones, like the situation. A three-step process in which a person must perceive a behavior underlines an attribution, the person must believe that the behavior was intentional and then determine if the behavior performed was forced.

While attribution theory serves the individuals need to understand the reasons behind events and behavior it fails to identify what is taking place. The very distinction in what is being answered by schema theory and attribution theory talk to the difference in how our process of knowledge gaining and processing functions. Cognition at the level of schema theory takes place in our use of previous experiences and acquired information to define and answer the answer to what. And in attribution theory we are not processing information by relating to our schemas but explicating behavior. Attribution theory can be used to explain why an individual took a certain action and schema theory would allow us to explain how we know what type of act that was.

We aim to address the who, what when, why and where in our every day lives and both theories can be combined in providing a theoretical understanding of how those questions are answered. Schema theory is an operative of our cognitive processing of knowledge and understanding and leads the way to the use of attribution theory in explicating the reasons why behavior or actions occurred.

In schema theory an individual with a highly developed MOP pertaining to relationships may reject others’ violations of their MOP and interfere with the escalation of relationships. The fundamental attribution error indicates how an individual will overestimate the importance of internal factors and minimize external factors and the inverse stands when explaining their own behavior. More significantly in communication is the third-person effect whereas an individual erroneously attribute media effect to be more strongly on others than themselves.

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