The Power of Schemas in Shaping Our Beliefs and Memories
In 1932, Frederic Bartlett, a researcher at Cambridge University, conducted an experiment that would change the way we view cognitive psychology forever. His study, which involved reciting a Native American folk tale called The War of the Ghosts to British participants, revealed a phenomenon that has since been studied and explored in greater depth. Bartlett found that as time passed, each participant adapted the story to fit their preconceived notions of what a “normal” world should be like.
This process is known as a schema, a term used in psychology to describe a set of preconceived ideas that our brain uses to perceive and interpret new information. Once formed, schemas tend to remain unchanged, even when faced with contradictory evidence. In other words, our brain creates an “auto-pilot” version of how it thinks the world should work, and we keep using it even when it’s no longer true or helpful.
Bartlett’s study was groundbreaking because it proved that our beliefs about the world can actively change the way we remember and interpret information. But why do we change the story, and how can this knowledge help us master our mental habits and achieve our goals?
The Reasons Why We Change the Story
Bartlett’s subjects changed the details of the story because the original version did not fit the way they thought the world should work, so they adjusted it until it seemed more reasonable. Schemas not only impact the memories we have about the outside world but also the things we believe about ourselves.
For instance, if a mother tells her daughter she looks like a tomboy, her daughter may react by choosing activities that she imagines a tomboy would do. Conversely, if the mother tells her she looks like a princess, her daughter might choose activities thought to be more feminine. The individual chooses activities based on expectations instead of desires, with the beliefs and schemas formed early on continuing to impact their actions years later.
Therefore, it’s important to take a step back and think about our beliefs about life. Do they truly serve us, or are we limiting ourselves with these beliefs? For example, is eating junk food truly a way to “treat ourselves” and “enjoy the good stuff in life” when trying to get healthy? Do we need to wait until a specific event happens to start our business? Is it true that only single people without kids can travel far and wide?
Unlearning What You Believe to be True
Sometimes, we carry old beliefs unknowingly, which don’t serve us anymore, making it essential to unlearn what we believe to be true. Just because something was true in the past doesn’t mean it’s still valid or helpful. We don’t have to see the world the same way as we’ve always seen it. We can change our beliefs by actively selecting new information to replace old schemas and automating a different perspective.
In conclusion, our beliefs about the world can actively change the way we remember and interpret information. Schemas have a tendency to remain unchanged, even in the face of contradictory evidence, which emphasizes the importance of questioning our beliefs and unlearning what we believe to be true. We shouldn’t let yesterday’s beliefs dictate the story we live out today and can choose to actively create new schemas that will serve us better in the future.