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The self-schema refers to a long lasting and stable set of memories that summarize a person's beliefs, experiences and generalizations about the self, in specific behavioral domains. A person may have a self-schema based on any aspect of himself or herself as a person, including physical characteristics, personality traits and interests, as long as they consider that aspect of their self important to their own self-definition.

For example, someone will have a self-schema of extroversion if they think of themselves as extroverted and also believe that their extroversion is central to who they are. Their self-schema for extroversion may include general self-categorizations ("I am sociable."), beliefs about how they would act in certain situations ("At a party I would talk to lots of people") and also memories of specific past events ("On my first day at university I made lots of new friends").


The term schematic describes having a particular schema for a particular dimension. For instance, a person in a rock band at night would have a "rocker" schema. However, during the day, if he works as a salesperson, he would have a "salesperson" schema during that period of time. Schemas vary according to cultural background[1] and other environmental factors.[2]

Once people have developed a schema about themselves, there is a strong tendency for that schema to be maintained by a bias in what they attend to, in what they remember, and in what they are prepared to accept as true about themselves.[citation needed] In other words, the self-schema becomes self-perpetuating. The self-schema is then stored in long-term memory, which both facilitates and biases the processing of personally relevant information.[3] Individuals who form a self-schema of a person with good exercise habits will then in return exercise more frequently.[4]

Self-schemas vary from person to person because each individual has very different social and cultural life experiences. A few examples of self-schemas are: exciting or dull; quiet or loud; healthy or sickly; athletic or nonathletic; lazy or active; and geek or jock. If a person has a schema for "geek or jock," for example, he might think of himself as a bit of a computer geek and would possess a lot of information about that trait. Because of this, he would probably interpret many situations based on relevance to his being a computer geek.

Another person with the "healthy or sickly" schema might consider themselves a very health conscious person. Their concern with being healthy would then affect everyday decisions such as what groceries they buy, what restaurants they frequent, or how often they exercise. Women who are schematic on appearance exhibited worse body image, lower self-esteem, and more negative mood than did those who are aschematic on appearance.[5]

The term aschematic means not having a schema for a particular dimension. This usually occurs when people are not involved with or concerned about a certain attribute. For example, if a person plans on being a musician, a self-schema in aeronautics will not apply to him; he is aschematic on aeronautics.

Childhood creation[edit]

Early in life, we are exposed to the idea of the self from our parents and other figures. We begin to take on a very basic self-schema, which is mostly limited to a "good child" or "bad child" schema—that is, we see ourselves in unambiguously positive or negative terms.[citation needed] It is in childhood that we begin to offer explanations for our actions, which reasoning creates the more complicated concept of the self: a child will begin to believe that the self caused his or her behaviors, deciding on what motivations to offer as explanations of behavior.[6]


Most people have multiple self-schemas, however this is not the same as multiple personalities in the pathological sense. Indeed, for the most part, multiple self-schemas are extremely useful to people in daily life. Subconsciously, they help people make rapid decisions and behave efficiently and appropriately in different situations and with different people. Multiple self-schemas guide what people attend to and how people interpret and use incoming information. They also activate specific cognitive, verbal, and behavioral action sequences – called scripts and action plans in cognitive psychology – that help people meet goals efficiently. Self-schemas vary not only by circumstances and who the person is interacting with, but also by mood. Researchers found that we have mood-congruent self-schemas that vary with our emotional state.[7]

The body[edit]

The self's relationship with and understanding of the body is an important part of self-schema. Body schema is a general term that has multiple definitions in various disciplines. Generally, it refers to a person's concept of his or her own body, where it is in space, what it looks like, how it is functioning, etc.

Our body image is part of our self-schema. The body image includes the following:[8]

  • The perceptual experience of the body
  • The conceptual experience of the body—what we have been told and believe about our body, including scientific information, hearsay, myth, etc.
  • The emotional attitude towards the body

Our body schemata may transcend the realities of what our bodies actually are—or in other words, we may have a different mental picture of our bodies than what they physically are. This is evidenced when individuals who lose limbs have phantom limb sensations.[9] Individuals who lose a limb may still feel like they have that limb. They may even feel in that limb sensations from other limbs.

Sexual schema[edit]

Over the years, the emphasis on sex as a means of predicting the emergence of neurosis has shifted to finding the developmental influence that sex has on personality. This new focus is on the balance between the capacity for sexual pleasure and the establishment of intimate relationships. The assumption here is that to the extent that an individual uses sexuality, one's sexual nature will be experienced as more or less central to one's identity.

Schemas can be viewed as a cognitive framework that organizes the relationship between external social stimuli and one's behavioral reactions. Thus, there are cognitive representations of the self that become active within specific contexts. Sexual schema is defined as a cognitive generalization about the sexual aspects of the self. This view is derived from past experience, manifested in current experience, influential in the processing of sexually relevant social information, and gives guidance for sexual behavior.[10] Women and men experience sexual self-schema in their own ways.

Women's sexual schema is composed of two positive aspects: the romantic-passionate and the open-direct self-views, and one negative aspect: embarrassment or conservative self-view. Women with a positive sexual schema tend to view themselves as: emotionally romantic or passionate, open to romantic and sexual relationships and experiences, liberal in their sexual attitudes and free of social inhibitions, evaluating sexual behavior more positively, more likely to engage in uncommitted sex and (one-night) sexual encounters, and more likely to anticipate more sexual partners in the future. Although they might seem very unrestricted, they also are more likely to have romantic ties or partners, and more likely to value romantic, loving, intimate attachments. On the other hand, women with negative sexual self-schema tend to view themselves as emotionally cold and unromantic, behaviorally inhibited in their sexual and romantic relationships, very conservative, and not confident in a variety of social and sexual contexts.[11]

Men's sexual schema can be described along a spectrum from being schematic to aschematic. Schematic men tend to view themselves as powerful and aggressive, open minded and liberal in their sexual attitudes, unquestionably more sexually experienced, and they tend to have a high frequency of sexual relationships, many of which occur without any commitment. In the same way as a woman with a positive sexual schema, these men are capable of feeling romantic love and passion. They are more likely to be in a relationship and to fall in love. Being single is usually just a temporary occurrence. On the other hand, aschematic men have a narrower range of sexual activities, they are most likely to be single, and the majority believes that situation will not change in the near future.[12]

Both men and women believe that a sexual person is someone who is sexual, but who can also display romantic, passionate, arousable, and loving qualities in order to establish intimate relationships.

Effect of illness[edit]

Individuals afflicted with both physical and mental illness have more negative self-schemata. This has been documented in patients suffering from such illnesses as depression and irritable bowel syndrome. Sufferers tend to identify themselves with their illness, unconsciously associating the negative traits of the illness itself with themselves.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ramírez-Esparza, N., Chung, C. K., Sierra-Otero, G., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2012). Cross-cultural constructions of self-schemas: Americans and Mexicans. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 43(2), 233-250.
  2. ^ Leite, C., & Kuiper, N. A. (2010). Positive and negative self-worth beliefs and evaluative standards. Revista De Psihologie, 56(3-4), 219-230.
  3. ^ Petersen, L., Stahlberg, D., & Dauenheimer, D. (2000). Effects of self-schema elaboration on affective and cognitive reactions to self-relevant information. Genetic, Social, And General Psychology Monographs, 126(1), 25-42.
  4. ^ Banting, L. K., Dimmock, J. A., & Lay, B. S. (2009). The role of implicit and explicit components of exerciser self-schema in the prediction of exercise behaviour. Psychology Of Sport And Exercise, 10(1), 80-86.
  5. ^ Jahee, J, & Lennon, S.J. (2003). Body Image, Appearance Self-Schema, and Media Images. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 32, Retrieved March 3, 2009, from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-27. Retrieved 2009-03-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Blakeslee, Thomas R (1996). Beyond the conscious mind: Unlocking the secrets of the self. New York, NY: Plenum Publishing Corporation. pp. 19. ISBN 0-306-45262-6.
  7. ^ Brown, Jonathon D., and Shelley E. Taylor. "Affect and the Processing of Personal Information: Evidence for Mood-Activated Self-Schemata." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 22 (1986): 436-452.
  8. ^ Gallagher, Shaun (1995). Body schema and intentionality. In N. Eilan, A. Marcel, & J. L. Bermudez (Eds.), The body and the self. (1-28). USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  9. ^ Altabe, M. & Thompson, J. K. (1996). Body image: a cognitive self-schema construct. Cognitive therapy and research, 20(2), 171-193.
  10. ^ Andersen, B. L., & Cyranowski, J. M. (1994). Women's sexual self-schema. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 0022-3514, Vol. 67, Issue 6
  11. ^ Andersen, B. L., & Cyranowski, J. M. (1994). Women's sexual self-schema. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 0022-3514, Vol. 67, Issue 6
  12. ^ Andersen, B. L., & Cyranowski, J. M., Espindle, D. (1999) Men's sexual self-schema. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 0022-3514, Vol. 76, Issue 4


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