Organization by Rules
In the organization of perceptions by rules, one frequently used rule is that of proximity or physical closeness: Things that are physically close to each other are perceived as a unit. Thus, using this rule, you will tend to perceive people who are often together, or messages spoken one immediately after the other, as units, as belonging together.
Another rule is similarity: Things that are physically similar (they look alike) are perceived as belonging together and forming a unit. This principle of similarity may lead you to see people who dress alike as belonging together. Similarly, you may assume that people who work at the same jobs, who are of the same religion, who live in the same building, or who talk with the same accent belong together.
The rule of contrast is the opposite of similarity: When items (people or messages, for example) are very different from each other, you conclude that they don’t belong together; they’re too different from each other to be part of the same unit. If you’re the only one who shows up at an informal gathering in a tuxedo, you’ll be seen as not belonging to the group, because you contrast too much with the other people present.
Organization by Schemata
Another way you organize material is by creating schemata, mental templates that help you organize the millions of items of information you come into contact with every day (as well as those you already have in memory). A stereotype—discussed in greater detail in Chapter 2—is a type of schema. Schemata, the plural of schema (though schemas seems to be used in many texts), may thus be viewed as general ideas about people (e.g., about Pat and Chris, Japanese people, Baptists, Texans); about yourself (your qualities, abilities, liabilities); or about social roles (the characteristics of a police officer, professor, multibillionaire CEO).
You develop schemata from your own experience—actual as well as via television, reading, the Internet, and hearsay. You might have a schema for college athletes, for example, and this might include an image of college athletes as strong, ambitious, academically weak, and egocentric.
Organization by Scripts
A script is really a type of schema, but because it’s a different type, it’s given a different name. A script is an organized body of information about some action, event, or procedure. It’s a general idea of how some event should play out or unfold; it’s the rules governing events and their sequence. For example, you probably have a script for eating in a restaurant, with the actions organized into a pattern something like this: Enter, take a seat, review the menu, order from the menu, eat your food, ask for the bill, leave a tip, pay the bill, exit the restaurant. Similarly, you probably have scripts for how you do laundry, how an interview is to be conducted, the stages you go through in introducing someone to someone else, and the way you ask for a date.
As you can see rules, schemata, and scripts are useful shortcuts to simplify your understanding, remembering, and recalling information about people and events. They also enable you to generalize, make connections, and otherwise profit from previously acquired knowledge. If you didn’t have these shortcuts, you’d have to treat every person, role, or action differently from each other person, role, or action. This would make every experience a new one, totally unrelated to anything you already know. As you’ll see in the next stage, these shortcuts may mislead you; they may contribute to your remembering things that are consistent with your schemata (even if they didn’t occur) and to your distorting or forgetting information that is inconsistent.