Structure and Development of Social Schemata. Evidence From Positive and Negative Transfer Effects

Susan T. Fiske, Linda M. Dyer

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62 Scopus citations


Schemata consist of components and links among the components, and schema development progresses from learning components to learning links to unitization, according to one theory (Hayes-Roth, 1977). This theory has been supported for nonsense syllable stimuli. Two experiments tested its generalizability to meaningful social stimuli. In both studies, the independent variable was stage of schema development, operationalized as degree of initial exposure to novel schemata. According to the theory, different points along the exposure continuum have nonmonotonic effects on subjects' ability to learn related material; more specifically, exposure affects positive and negative transfer of learning, resulting in a cubic function (sequentially: no transfer, positive transfer, negative transfer, no transfer). In the first experiment, both positive and negative transfer effects were obtained with social stimuli, resulting in the exact cubic function predicted by the theory. In the second experiment, the cubic transfer function was replicated over the time frame more typical of developing social knowledge (i.e., several weeks). These results show that low levels of schema development facilitate related social learning, whereas intermediate levels interfere and high levels have no effect. The nonmonotonic effects of schema development may account for some anomalous findings in social schema research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)839-852
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1985

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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