Bartlett’s concept of the schema and its impact on theories of knowledge representation in contemporary cognitive psychology
Bartlett as time traveller Bartlett developed the schema construct in the 1920s, yet the idea had its main impact on cognitive psychology and cognitive science in the 1970s and 1980s. What was the cause of this 50-year lag? In developing the schema construct Bartlett was essentially proposing a completely new form of mental representation. Unfortunately for him, he made the proposal during the period when behaviourism was becoming the dominant intellectual framework in psychology, and a core component of the behaviourist framework was that mental entities were to be excluded from scientific psychology. In addition, Bartlett’s experimental work on memory took an approach quite at odds with the dominant atomistic/ reductionist
approach deriving from the important early work of Ebbinghaus. The first sections of this chapter will describe Bartlett’s schema proposal and give an account of how he came to be so far out of phrase with mainstream psychological thought.