A critique of schemata as a theory of human story memory

by Perry W. Thorndyke, Frank R. Yekovich

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The concept of a "schema" as a theoretical construct has regained prominence among memory researchers, particularly those studying prose learning. A schema is a cluster of knowledge that describes the typical properties of the concept it represents. Recent theories built upon the notion of schemata have explained numerous results in human comprehension, recall, and summarization of prose. While schema theory provides a plausible and descriptive framework for understanding human knowledge processing, it is ill-constrained and provides few detailed process assumptions. This lack of constraint allows sufficient flexibility to accommodate post hoc many empirical results. However, because of this flexibility, the theory is of limited predictive value and is not testable as a scientific theory in its current form. We detail the strengths and weaknesses of schema theory, affirm its promise as a theory of human memory, and suggest areas for future theoretical development.

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