Consequences of schemata for attention, impressions, and recall in complex social interactions

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1983 Sep;45(3):538-49. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.45.3.538.


A study was conducted to assess the effects of personality schemata on attentional allocation, impressions, and memory among observers of a complex social interaction. Subjects were first primed with schematic descriptions of an actor, and then they listened to an audiotape in which that actor and another participated in several separate conversations, with the primed actor either in the foreground or in the background. Other subjects could throw a switch to shift either actors' conversations into the foreground. As predicted, subjects in this last group shifted their attention away from the primed actor after determining that his behavior did not violate the schema they had been given and shifted their attention back when the primed actor acted in a schema-inconsistent manner. Analyses of all three attentional conditions revealed that the less attention subjects were able to pay to the primed actor, the more they relied on their schemata in making impression judgments, the more confident they were in the occurrence of schema-consistent "false alarm" behaviors, and the less confident they were in the occurrence of schema-inconsistent and schema-irrelevant behaviors. These results are discussed in terms of subject strategies in dealing with information overload when processing complex stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Cognition
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Social Perception*