The concept of cognitive schema is one of the most important of those used in psychology today, whether it is intervention and therapy or research. Thanks to it, it is possible to create theories about the different patterns of behavior, prejudices and prejudices, and the types of beliefs that define each person.
In a way, each of us we have our cognitive schema systemAnd these are expressed from what we say and do. They are part of who we are and how we have become accustomed to “reading” reality.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what exactly cognitive patterns are and how they affect us in the way we think, consciously or unconsciously.
What are cognitive schemas?
Part of who we are is based on how we mentally organize all of those concepts, beliefs and learnings that we use to live day to day. In fact, one of the reasons the human mind is so complex and fascinating is because it can find an almost infinite amount of means of generating interpretations of reality, Each having relative internal consistency.
However, it is difficult for a single person to simultaneously maintain multiple well-differentiated behavior patterns. In practice, in fact, this would indicate that there is no style of behavior, but that what defines the actions of this individual is pure and simple chaos, the unpredictable. Reality, on the other hand, tells us how we are it follows relatively stable guidelines. Anyone who avoids talking to strangers is very likely not to spend the night trying to be the center of attention, for example.
Our way of interpreting the world, our identity and our social relations is not random and constantly evolving, but follows certain patterns that give it stability over time and in the different contexts that we go through.
Now … what’s behind these “rails” that seem to guide our behavior? Part of this “psychological structure” that gives stability to what we do it follows precisely from what we think.
We usually don’t act in a way that goes against our beliefs, unless we have to. And it is the cognitive schemas that are precisely the conceptions of this circuit through which our thoughts and opinions usually pass.
Switching from one concept to another: a system of thought
In a nutshell, cognitive patterns they are systems of relations between concepts which makes them more likely to switch from certain ideas to others. For example, if for us the concept of eating animal meat is related to the concept of “bad”, it is difficult that when we attend a bullfight we see the concept of “art”.
Another example would be someone who firmly believes in the Christian god. It is easy for this person to see the hand of an engineer behind the design of the elements that he finds in nature. Therefore, the concept of “nature” will be related to a concept that defines only part of what exists, and not everything, so that you will believe that there is something beyond matter: the divinity.
For an atheist, on the contrary, it is much more probable that the concept of “nature” has an equivalence relation with the concept of “what exists”, because for him there is only matter in movement.
To finish, someone with very low self-esteemYou will probably have a hard time combining your self-concept with the idea of ”success”. This is why he will learn an attribution style whereby he will interpret that his successes are in fact a simple fruit of luck, something that could have happened to anyone. On the other hand, it will also be more possible for him to interpret the misfortunes that happen to him as if they were his fault, reaching cases where he is responsible for aggressions and attacks on others; this is something that is widely observed among victims of abuse.
So cognitive patterns do that we go from concept A to B more easily than from A to G, And in this way, “networks” of strongly interconnected concepts are generated which maintain a certain coherence.
The fact that we live by interpreting things through cognitive schemas has positive aspects, but there are also negative ones. For example, these psychological patterns they endow our mental processes with a certain rigidity. At best, this can lead to difficulty in understanding other people’s point of view, or possibly in performing creative tasks (research on creativity is tricky); and in the worst case, it leads to dogmatism.
However, there is another phenomenon which is also a consequence of the solidity of cognitive schemas: cognitive dissonance, a phenomenon for which we feel uncomfortable holding two contradictory ideas.
These are the advantages and disadvantages that you have to know how to manage, because it is not possible to do without cognitive patterns. What we can do is try to make them more useful than problematic. In fact, cognitive therapy, based on Aron Beck’s ideas, is based on this principle: changing beliefs so that they serve us, not us.