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Our Perceptions Guide Our Lives, or Do They?

One day, during the ongoing annual school holidays, triplets in a family were assigned similar tasks by their mother. They were asked to draw a circle using one of her bangles and fill it with their favourite colour. The mother mentions that It has to be coloured evenly and with no gaps within. This task had been frequently practised by the kids in the class. With the ongoing holidays, a mother would want to keep her kids engaged with anything productive. She asks them to start drawing, providing each of them with a single bangle of hers while placing an hourglass beside, giving them a specified time to complete the task. The time provided was much more than what was provided in their class. They start while their mother is sipping her herbal tea and observing them.

The width of the circle that each kid draws is different. One of the kids fills the ring with orange colour while choosing black paint for the outline. The second kid fills the circle with black colour and black colour outline. The third kid fills the ring with a combination of blue and pink similar to that of her favourite candy with combination colour of the system such that the half-circle filled with blue has a pink outline. In contrast, the other half filled with pink colour has a blue shape. There are no gaps in each of the circles sending out the message to the mother that her kids have learned well. During the extra time, kids look at each other and their mothers while showing interest in their work. After completing having her tea, the mother goes through each of their drawing books which they had used in their class. She tries to study each of their works. Once all of the sand settles down at the lower bottom of the hourglass, she lets them know that the time is up.

The mother appreciates her kids and asks them to experiment with varied colours next time. She lets the kids go out to play except for the second kid and asks him why he chooses to fill the circle with black and the same colour for the outline. The class book showed her the kid using colourful crayons while it was different at home. She asks him to do it again, spends time with him, and joins him in choosing colours while making it joyful for him throughout.

Why did the kid behave differently at home while given a task to perform among his other siblings? Why did each of the kids choose the colour they did for the circles?. These questions make us approach the concept of ‘schema’ or ‘schemata’ as one reason, among many other reasons.


A cognitive structure represents a person’s knowledge about some entity or situation, including its qualities and relationships. Schemas are usually abstractions that simplify a person’s world.

-American Psychological Association (APA)

Depending on the type of schema that has been created in one’s mind, it can be helpful and, at times, a hindrance. Let us look at a few types of schemas to understand better how each moment and everyday schemas are being created while the present schemas are altered.

a. Object schema

Each time we have to handle a new phone and log in to the desired app, we look for that specific app logo/word similar to the logo/word of that respective app in the previous phone. Designers working in this area see that they create almost identical logos across every smartphone to help consumers recognize it quickly. Specific information, including the design and words of the logo, is registered in our minds to surf through easily in similar situations in the future. Object schema refers to this register of information based on our perception forming a schema.

b. Stereotype

This schema type involves perceiving information about a group of people or objects, which is not the reality. This is a common type of perception that we come across many people. For example, suppose the leader of anyone spiritual institution commits a heinous act. In that case, one might start perceiving that all the leaders across every spiritual institution to be of the same kind, which in reality could not be accurate.

c. Prototypes

As the name suggests, a prototype is a set of certain elements forming a whole. This is, again, a prevalent one in Indian societies and a self-explanatory one if observed. What a perfect community is? Perfect mother? Perfect father? This type of schema can lead to mental chaos within a person if not addressed early.

d. Script

A script schema is based on our perception of the usual schedule or an experience outside. It is about perceiving a particular event to happen after another and so on. But one can forget that there always needs to be space for activities that are not expected to happen and can happen. It is the way of life, and if one looks at the positive side, it can create patience and tolerance or create stress within.

e. Self-schema

Self-schema is the perception that we have towards ourselves. This is a fundamental mental construct that one might miss out on. What do we think about ourselves? Within ourselves and the way we see ourselves while interacting with the world outside.

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