Rumelhart and Norman made key contributions to general schema theory, A framework for the analysis of cognitive processing and the acquisition of knowledge belonging to the field of neuroscience.
In this article, we will describe the main aspects of schema theory and the most important contributions of these two authors.
What are cognitive schemas?
In the field of cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics and other related sciences, the term “schema” is used to refer to cognitive models of information, including the relationships between different elements of knowledge. They have been studied primarily for their influence on the perception and acquisition of new information.
In his book Schemata: the building blocks of cognition (1980), which had a transcendental influence on the development of schema theory, David Rumelhart stated that the concept of schema refers to the knowledge we have. More precisely, these would correspond to generic information sets, Relatively nonspecific.
These diagrams represent the human experience at all levels, from the most basic sensory perceptions and abstract aspects such as ideology, to the muscle movements, sounds, structure and meanings that make up language.
According to Rumelhart and Norman (1975), schemas are composed of different variables which can acquire several values. The information we get is processed cognitively and compared to the diagrams and their possible configurations, which we store in long-term memory and increase the efficiency of our cognition.
The general theory of Rumelhart and Norman schemes
Rumelhart and Norman argue that learning, and therefore schema formation, is not a unitary process, but that we obtain knowledge through three modes of acquisition: accumulation, adjustment and restructuring. The basic process is the spontaneous accumulation of information that we realize through the senses and cognition.
However, accumulation is only possible when new information is compatible with the patterns we already have. In case of divergence, it is necessary to modify the cognitive structure; if this is of low intensity, an adjustment process takes place which maintains the basic relational network of the diagram, modifying only a few variables.
On the other hand, when the gap between memories and new information is very large, adjustment is not enough, but we resort to restructuring. This process is defined as the creation of a new schema from the combination of existing schemas or the detection of common patterns among some of them.
How are schema variables changed?
As we said, Rumelhart and Norman spoke of “variables” to designate the factors that define the patterns and their possible manifestations. Often, the acquisition of knowledge involves modifying these variables in order to update cognitive structure, especially in cases of adjustment learning.
According to these authors, the change of variables can take place in four different ways. The first is to increase the specificity of patterns by changing the meaning associated with a given range of values. Another way is to increase this range so that the applicability of the variable does the same.
Of course, the reverse can also occur: the reduction of the applicability band or the replacement of the variable by a constant. The fourth and final way is set the base values for a given variable; this is used to make inferences when there is insufficient information about the variable in a particular situation.
The interactive model of reading comprehension
Rumelhart also developed a theory he called the “interactive model” to explain reading comprehension from a cognitive perspective. In the interactive model, Rumelhart describes the acquisition of linguistic and visual knowledge as a process in which the mind works with several sources of information simultaneously.
So, when we read, our brain analyzes factors such as the relationships between sounds and letters (which are arbitrary in nature), the meanings of the words and sentences made, or the syntactic links between the different components of speech. .
If at least one of the physiologico-cognitive systems relevant to reading comprehension is altered, the resulting information processing deficit is compensated for by another type of information. So, for example, when we don’t understand the meaning of a word or feel it wrong, we can try to infer it from the discursive context.
On another side Rumelhart considered the stories to share nuclear grammatical aspects. By listening to or reading stories that we did not know before, perceiving this common grammar helps us understand events and mentally structure them more easily, as well as predict the development of events.
- Rumelhart, DE (1980). Schemes: the building blocks of cognition. In RJ Spiro et al. (Eds.), “Theoretical Problems in Reading Comprehension”. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Norman, DA and Rumelhart, DE (1975). Cognitive explorations. San Francisco: Freeman.