Solved IGNOU Assignment >> MPC004 >> Q4

4. Explain schemas and prototypes with reference to impression formation.

Schemas and prototypes with reference to impression formation

Impression Formation: It is the process through which an individual forms impressions about others. Every individual organizes information about another person to form an overall impression of that person. Impression formation focused on the way in which people pay particular attention to certain unusually important traits – known as central traits – to help them to form an overall impression of others.

Rather than absorbing each piece of new information about an individual in a vacuum, it is common for people to invoke a preexisting prototype or schema based on some aspect of the person (for example, “grandmother” or “graduate student”), modifying it with specific information about the particular individual to arrive at an overall impression. One term for this process is schema-plus-correction. It can be dangerous because it allows people to infer many things from a very limited amount of information, which partially explains why impressions are often wrong.

Schemas and impression formation

Implicit personality theories discuss beliefs about what traits or characteristics tend to go together (e.g., Sedikes & Anderson, 1994). These theories, which can be viewed as a specific kind of schema, suggest that when individuals possess some traits, they are likely to possess others, too. Such expectations are strongly shaped by the cultures in which we live. 
Example: in many societies it is assumed that “what is beautiful is good”— attractive people possess positive traits, such as good social skills and an interest in enjoying the good things in life (e.g., Wheeler & Kim, 1997).
These tendencies to assume that certain traits or characteristics go together are very common and can be observed in many contexts. Research findings suggest that schemas influence three basic processes: attention, encoding, and retrieval.

Prototypes and impression formation

During person perception, the personality traits are grouped into personality types which serve as schemas. These are known as prototypes. In impression formation we assign the person to a prototype. Once done, we assume the person to possess all traits associated with the prototype. 

Our impressions of others are, thus, often strongly shaped by our beliefs about what traits or characteristics go together. These beliefs are often so strong that we will sometimes bend our perceptions of other people to be consistent with them. We can form impressions of others that reflect our implicit beliefs more than their actual traits (e.g., Gawronski, 2003).

Prototypes help us to recognize and categorise information about other individuals and the world around them and accordingly align their social interactions.

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To summarize, rather than absorbing each piece of new information about an individual in a vacuum, people invoke a preexisting prototype or schema based on some aspect of the person (example: “grandmother” or “graduate student”), modify it with specific information about the particular individual to arrive at an overall impression. It helps people to organize the complex world and humans into a framework, that makes it easy to remember and recall, even if there are, often, errors. 

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