People’s perceptions are mostly manipulated by social conventions known as schemata. Cognitive schemata are mental formations which constitute expectations and judgment about the world and influence an individual’s image of a particular person or situation. There are four major cognitive schemata: personal construct, prototype, script, and stereotype (Augoustinos & Walker, 1995). All of them build prejudice and misinterpretations, which can worsen the attitude of people towards others.
Providing a prototype is common when someone wants to explain some concepts. Prototyping is showing a specific person or object as an ideal example of the notion. For instance, Robin Williams, a famous American actor, is a prototype of an ‘extravert’ person (Augoustinos & Walker, 1995). He perfectly fits the image of an individual who is outgoing, talkative, and charismatic. Thus, when someone tries to think about a term, he or she usually pictures its ideal prototype. However, people typically have particular expectations from the prototypical person. When this person acts differently from the perfect image, he or she gets criticized for not fulfilling their expectations.
The next kind of cognitive schemata is known as a personal construct. This construct is built on individuals’ experiences and affects their perception about the events or people in the present (Augoustinos & Walker, 1995). It allows them to evaluate community and situations and correlate them with specific categories. The problem with this schema is that people with a personal construct typically ignore the distinct features from the past and only see the similar characteristics or qualities which remind them of the past. Similarly, I had many fears regarding my future relationships and did not want to start them because of the bad experience with my ex-partners.
One of the most common reasons for the wrong perception is stereotyping. People always categorize others according to their sex, family background, appearance, and profession (Augoustinos & Walker, 1995). For example, women are often perceived as weak and overly emotional, and men as aggressive and logical because of their gender. There is also a common stereotype that blonde girls are not intelligent, allowing them to mock people with light hair color. Unfortunately, I often misjudge people because of their appearance, as well. As an example, I was afraid of one man and thought he was dangerous because he was tall with a muscular body and serious facial expression. Then, I realized he was the kindest person on the Earth who loved children and small kittens.
The last type of schemata which influences public opinion on individuals is a script. It is an array of events which guides how people are supposed to act in a certain situation. People are expected to follow a script at work when they talk to their colleagues or clients, visit restaurants, wait at the entrance to be seated by a waiter, and in hospitals when patients talk to their doctors (Augoustinos & Walker, 1995). Even though it helps to construct professional and friendly relationships, scripts can be destructive to people’s relationships. Scripts make a person predict the actions, and when their expectations fail, they get upset.
To conclude, people tend to criticize and misjudge others because of cognitive schemata. Prototype and script make a person expect specific actions from another individual, which leads to the deterioration of their relationship. Personal construct and stereotyping result in society having a negative attitude towards others because of their specific features, appearance, sex, and so forth. Therefore, communities need to be less judgmental and realize that real humans are different from images they draw in their minds.
Augoustinos, M., & Walker, I. (1995). Social cognition: An integrated introduction. Sage Publications Thousand Oaks.