Mental models consist of two main components: schemas and mental processes that operate knowledge. In essence, schemas represent mental shortcuts that help us create judgments and make decisions based on our previous experiences, rather than analyzing every new piece of information from scratch. As such they include core beliefs about ourselves, the others, and the world; these beliefs are convictions that we actively think about and that we consider to be true. Beliefs have a major influence in the way we perceive the world and how we create relationships. If we believe that being late is a sign of unreliability, we will most likely not hire that person for the job. If we believe that people who wear black are more professional than those who wear pink, we will more likely hire the person in a black suit.
These beliefs hold a key role in constructing schemas. Some common examples of schemas that we use in our daily lives are stereotypes, social roles, behavioral scripts, worldviews, and archetypes. For example, children may typically think of doctors holding a syringe in their hand, either from their previous experiences or from what they may have watched on TV. Because of this, they associate hospitals with pain and tend to be scared while visiting hospitals. Similarly, we attribute the color pink to girls and the color blue to boys. Hence, when we see a newborn baby wearing a pink shirt, we tend to automatically assume that it’s a girl, even though we do not actually know for sure. This shows that although schemas help us categorize information faster and more efficiently, they are often prone to bias and may be untrue.Self-schemas and self-esteem
Another type of schema are self-schemas, or core beliefs about ourselves. These are crucial to our self-image and self-identity and play a major role in our self-esteem. For example, if we think of ourselves as an introvert, we tend to actively use information that matches our introversion self-schema. What does this mean in practice?
We may use general self-categorizations ("I am shy"), beliefs about how we would act in specific settings ("In a party where I don’t know anyone I would wait for my friend to introduce me") and also memories of previous events ("On my first day working for this company I had lunch alone").
By filtering information to match our preconceived ideas about ourselves, we reinforce these self-schemas. This can either enhance or damage our self-esteem, and it all depends on whether these self-schemas are negative or positive.
There is no doubt that mental models, schemas, and beliefs are all highly useful in processing information quickly and helping us understand the world faster. However, they are based solely on our subjective experiences and perceptions, and therefore they are not necessarily accurate nor true. What does this imply for us? We can learn how to recognize the schemas and beliefs that we are engaging with.
Once we do that, we can then learn to separate ourselves from them and replace negative self-schemas with positive ones. The key is to realize that the knowledge we have about ourselves and the world may not necessarily be true, but it can be used to enhance our experience in this world.
As historian Yuval Noah Harari
puts it: “The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists usually assume that no theory is 100% correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility”.
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