Schema and deviation effects in remembering repeated unfamiliar stories

Eva Rubínová*, Hartmut Blank, Jonathan Koppel, James Ost

*Corresponding author for this work

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In today's globalized world, we frequently encounter unfamiliar events that we may have difficulty comprehending - and in turn remembering - due to a lack of appropriate schemata. This research investigated schema effects in a situation where participants established a complex new schema for an unfamiliar type of story through exposure to four variations. We found that immediate recall increased across subsequent stories and that distortions occurred less frequently - participants built on the emerging schema and gradually established representations of parts of the story that were initially transformed. In recall with delays increasing up to 1 month, quantitative measures indicated forgetting while distortions increased. The second focus of this research was on content and order deviation effects on recall. The content deviation, in contrast with previous repeated-event research, was not remembered well and was associated with lower recall; the order deviation had a similar (but expected) effect. We discuss discrepancies between results of this study and previous literature, which had focused on schemata for familiar events, in relation to stages of schema development: it seems that in unfamiliar repeated events, a complex new schema is in the early stages of formation, where the lack of attentional resources limits active processing of deviations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-206
Number of pages27
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank Liz Saunders, George Burrows, Anthony Groves, Suzy Wise, and Jana Literakova for their help with developing the stimuli; Vanessa Davis for assisting at data collection; Chloe Alexis, Pamela Korsah, and Priyanka Mistry for their help with data management; and Nadine Hawkins de Namor and Ewa Skopicz-Radkiewicz for their help with reliability coding.


  • Attention
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Mental Recall


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