Human Inference Theory and Its Relation to Script and Schema Theories: A Literature Review

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Harvey Mudd College
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The human inference theory is studied within the field of cognitive psychology, and it refers to how people draw conclusions while interacting with various stimuli in their environment. According to this model, humans do not spontaneously construct logical proofs when they reason but rather, they rely on rapid intuition making their conclusions prone to systematic errors. For this reason, it has become impossible to apply logical formalism in determining and recovering assertions in human inference. However, people can use cognition to correct these errors through deliberation.

Human inference also entails various tasks, some of which can be carried out at the same time. For instance, they can generate conclusions from a set of assertions, consult background knowledge to explain inconsistencies and make probable outcomes for unique events. Humans utilize the use of semantic labels. They make predictions based on a categorization of what is immediately recognizable due to a human need for cognitive economy; a term that refers to how people categorize the world to provide a maximally efficient way of representing information about frequently encountered objects.

Silvan Tomkins composed the Script theory as a further development of his affect theory. This psychological theory proposes that human behavior is organized in patterns known as scripts. They guide a person's action much like how a screenplay guides the actions during a theatre production.

The basic unit of the script theory is a scene' which is a series of occurrences unique to an event. The affect that triggers the event links the different experiences. Affect refers to a subjective feeling experienced in response to a stimulus. It includes one's emotions and mood and is usually physically evident. According to Tomkins, we categorize our experiences about different criteria like physical locations where events occur, relationships with people involved or the intensity of the affect produced. We then use these categories to construct scripts which direct our actions while seeking to maximize pleasure and minimize displeasure.

For example, regarding having dinner in a restaurant, perhaps based on prior experience one will create a sequence of events that should take place when one is in a restaurant. It could be something like this; give the car to the valet, enter the restaurant, have coat taken, confirm reservation, sit at the table, order a meal, order wine, eat, use fork and knife, don't spill, order dessert and so on. Due to this mental script, a person can perform an activity effortlessly. Scripts can be revised to maximize pleasure and eliminate discomfort. For example, in the restaurant, if a person spilled their food while using a fork and knife, they will adjust their script to order food that is eaten with a spoon to avoid the embarrassment.

Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett introduced the Schema theory was. He was a British psychologist, and one of the precursors of cognitive psychology. Richard Anderson further developed it in the 70s. Bartlett was aiming at providing a more concrete explanation to overthrow traditional theories about memory. The schema theory is better as it describes how information in the human mind is acquired, interpreted and organized

Schemas are a form of mental categorization of complex knowledge into chunks found in the long term memory. Bartlett found that in a recall, unfamiliar information was often replaced with already known facts making it inaccurate. He suggested that schemas existing in memory caused errors when interacting with incoming memory causing proactive interference in the recall. Interference refers to when already learned information keeps us from internalizing new information.

Ideally, a schema is a mental template that describes the main features of something. For instance, the schema for a dog includes, having four legs, fur, barking and having sharp teeth. When one encounters a new animal, say a cat, one is instantly able to categorize it as either being a cat or a dog depending on which features from the schema it does or does not have. For example, a cat has four legs, fur, and sharp teeth but it does not bark so it cannot be a dog. A separate schema is created for cats. The schema might include the following features: a cat has four legs, fur, sharp teeth, and mews.

A Schema has four main elements; a person can unconsciously utilize a schema, schemas accumulate over time through different experiences, a constructed schema remains stable for a while, and lastly, humans use schemas to organize, encode and retrieve information about their natural worlds.

Humans adopt dierent strategies when they reason. From the explanations above, scripts describe elaborate actions as in verbs while schemas describe objects as in nouns. There are two basic types of inferences; inductive and deductive. Inductive reasoning involves making conclusions based on observation of recurring patterns of events. It predicts what is likely to happen based on past experiences. Deductive reasoning forms conclusions from systematically and logically laid out propositions. If the premise is true, the conclusion is also true as it is of no greater generality than the proposition. It entails reasoning from pure logic.

Human beings in their daily life use inductive inference to when coming into contact with new material in their environment. When a person encounters something unfamiliar, say an animal, they first pass the object through various schemas in their long-term memories to identify what the object is. When an object is identified, another schema is reviewed to determine features of the animal, like whether the animal dangerous, has sharp teeth or claws, can run fast and so on. From this schema, a script to direct behavior is formed, for instance, if the animal is identified as a cat, the script could guide the person to either pet the cat, kick it or even ignore it depending on what the person's affect towards cats is. Therefore, scripts and schemas are essential for human inference to take place.

These theories are applicable in the development of artificial intelligence where computer scientists incorporate schemas and scripts in their algorithms in an attempt to mimic human inference in these artificial systems. So when the computer encounters a problem instead of mathematically calculating a logical solution, they analyze the frames they have been equipped with to draw a conclusion.

In marketing, how you sell a product is more important than the product itself. One has to be able to tap into the inference ability of the target so as to capture the target's attention. The marketer has to become familiar with some of the general experiences of the target crowd so as to determine what scripts and schemas they might form regarding the product. From this, a marketing strategy is created to either adjust these schemas or create new ones altogether to make the product attractive to the customer.

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