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Schemas shaping our emotional response to ourselves

This essay will firstly look at schemas, the various components and Piagets view of early cognitive development. Secondly this essay will focus on various theories in relation to aggression, their relevance with schemas and various determining factors associated with it. Thirdly this essay will look at various theories in relation to love, different factors that are associated and the influence of schemas on love. Finally this essay will conclude with general discussion about schemas and how they differentiate. Throughout this essay the author will draw upon various research to support the discussion.

A schema is, “an organised cluster of knowledge about a particular object or event abstracted from previous experience with the object or event” (Weiten, 2007, p.276). Schemas are an extremely important tool in social perception. They influence how we perceive, remember and evaluate ourselves and others. They are constantly developing depending on the individual’s level of exposure to different stimuli (Weiten, 2007). While many share and even agree somewhat on various scripts, other types of schema are far more diverse.

There are various different types of schema such as self, other, situation/event and role schemas. Role schemas contain information about how individuals playing specific roles generally act (Weiten, 2007). Situational schemas or also called scripts, relate events, or sequences of events and organise them in relation by common activities (Weiten, 2007).Self schemas organise our thoughts, feelings and also action, therefore influencing how we remember, feel and evaluate others and also ourselves (Carlson, Martin, & Buskist, 2007). Finally other or person schemas are a type of mental structure suggesting that behaviours and traits go together and that individuals having them are a certain type (Carlson, et al., 2007).

Piaget proposed through early cognitive development that children are able to construct new schemas because they have inherited two functions, which he termed organization and adaption (Shaffer, 1999). Organization according to Piaget is the ability to combine schemas while adaption is the process of adjusting to the demands of the environment (Shaffer, 1999). Adaption he believed occurs through two complementary activities, assimilation and accommodation (Shaffer, 1999). Assimilation is seen as the ability to take in new information and fitting them to existing schemas while accommodation is an individual’s ability to alter previous schemas so they will fit (Berstein & Nash, 2006). What can be shown from these processes is that schemas are dynamic and complex, especially with regard an individual’s cognition, emotions and behaviour.

Aggression has a number of factors that influence it on many different levels. While the definition of aggression has been greatly debated with various theorists, the main assumption is that it is, “any form of behaviour directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (Baron, 1980, p.36). Aggression can also be divided into two main groups, hostile aggression and instrumental aggression (Baron, 1980). Hostile aggression would be described as being elicited by anger while instrumental aggression would be a form of calm, pragmatic aggression (Baron, 1980). An influential theory on aggression was proposed by Dollard and he termed it the frustration-aggression theory (Baron, 1980). This theory focused on frustration as being instigation towards aggression (Baron, 1980). This theory proposed by Dollard clearly illustrates the dynamic role of aggression especially with regard to behaviour and an individual’s responses to environmental cues.

The most influential theory was developed by Bandura (1973), where he suggested that aggression be viewed as a learned form of social behaviour. It is generally accepted within psychology that instrumental conditioning and social modelling are of crucial importance (Hewstone & Stroebe, 2001). Huesmann developed a model focused on schemas and scripts, their acquisition and then their retrieval (Geen & Donnerstein, 1998). More aggressive individuals according to Huesmann, have a larger number of aggressive scripts (Geen & Donnerstein, 1998). Normative beliefs have also been shown to play a significant role in aggression especially as it refers to the appropriateness of aggressive behaviour (Geen & Donnerstein, 1998). Research also suggests that the interaction between predisposing personal factors with forces at work in the environment, help to shape the various schemas and scripts in children (Geen & Donnerstein, 1998). This is especially evident with regard aggression as certain environment cues can relate to previous acquired scripts causing the individual to become aggressive. Berkowitz (1993) also showed that exposure to an object or event that would have a schema associated with aggression will serve as a cuing function and will therefore increase the likelihood of further aggressive exchanges. This is has been seen with individuals who spent their childhood in hostile environments either geographical or within the home (Geen & Donnerstein, 1998). While many individuals are capable of altering previous acquired schema though adaption or even organisation, some schema prove to be difficult to alter and may remain unchanged. This can retrospectively effect an individual’s social- psychological adjustment (Baron, 1980). This further illustrates the effects that schemas can have on an individual’s emotional state but also their behaviour.

Many other factors also play a role in aggression such as social crowding, high ambient temperatures, loud noise, genetics, media, group dynamics and aggressive imitation to name but a few. Further research has shown that, aggression and social-psychological adjustment are applicable for both boys and girls (Crick, Ostov & Werner, 2006). However the biological relationship between their hormone levels, the hippocampus and the amygdala also play a large role in aggression (Kegan & Segal, 1995). This further illustrates the diversity of aggression within both sexes and within various environments and with emotional responses.

While many people feel that love is a strong emotional form of liking someone, what has become clear through research is that it is far more complex. Most theorists agree that there are several different types of love (Brehm, Kassin & Fein, 2005). A theory which is widely accepted as giving a broad and consummate analysis of love is Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory (Bernstein & Nash, 2006). His theory consists of three basic components, intimacy, compassion and commitment. These three components can be further divided into eight further subsets with the most complete form of love being a high level of all three primary components which he termed consummate love (Bernstein & Nash, 2006).

While Sternberg’s triangular theory in relation to love is broad, the attachment of infants and children with their primary caregiver plays a huge role in the individuals need for secure attachment. This theory was termed the attachment theory by John Bowlby (Holmes, 1993).This need of lack thereof greatly influences an individual’s need to pursue forms of secure attachment. Through an infant’s experience with external stimuli, their own mental schemas are constantly being constructed and revised. These emotional bonds play a centre role in an individual’s future relationships (Ainsworth, 1989). These attachment schemas are readily capable of change based on new schema, although this process may become difficult with repeated, uncorrected use of inhibiting schemas or scripts (Ainsworth, 1989). This shows that self concepts and early attachment experiences have a huge influence on an individual’s relevant schema and also how those schemas shape both the individual’s emotional response to themselves and to others.

Many diverse factors have been seen to influence love, some of which include the social environment, religious views, political views, biological makeup etc. Furthermore attraction has been shown to be one of the major factors that influence loving relationships (Bernstein & Nash, 2006). While there are numerous gender differences in relation to concepts of attractiveness, the matching phenomenon plays a central role in drawing individuals of similar traits and attractiveness together (Sternberg & Barnes, 1989). Furthermore it has also been shown that proximity to an individual powerfully predicts liking that individual and increases instances of interaction (Sternberg & Barnes, 1989).Through these factors, an individual’s relevant schema is at times constantly accommodated and assimilated to suit the various different situations. These factors also clearly influence an individual’s behaviour with various people while the relevant or irrelevant schema is being retrieved (Sternberg & Barnes, 1989).

Schemas have been shown in this essay to be complex on many levels, especially from a societal, an individual and also on an interpersonal level. The formation, the revision and the accessibility of various schemas are both a developing factor but also a lifelong process with each individual. While many encounter similar environmental or individual stimuli regularly, their interpretation of them is what differentiates one individual from another. This can be clearly seen with regard love and aggression. While there are many theories on both, their relevance with schemas is undeniable. Furthermore the potential effect of various factors on both aggression and love are limitless especially considering that each individual is physiologically different to begin with. While aggression at times is not necessary (to the extent it once was at least), love is fundamental for the survival of the species. Martin Luther King Jr. summed it best when he said:

“Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love” (Rosenberg, 2005, p.171).

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