Cognitive Memory Models


Description of Vignette

The video this week involves a brief interaction of several employees.  A new employee (Sally) is being shown around the office by Karen, who seems to have been with company for a long period of time indicated by her attitude, references to an “us” versus “them” atmosphere, and knowledge of the ins and outs of the building.  Karen also has a condescending and negative attitude indicated by her snide comments towards an overweight employee.  Another employee, Jill, passes through making a racist remark regarding the disadvantage of having hired a Mexican security firm.  Sally takes everything in stride, although she is shocked to see yet another employee rummaging through Karen’s purse and actually taking it with him, after Karen left for a cigarette break.  Sally does take off her jacket at Karen’s recommendation (because “they” would not appreciate her wearing it).  The overweight employee offers Sally a snack, but she declines.  Sally’s anxiety, whether because she is new to the company or because of the bizarre events and individuals she has met on her first day, is evident in her chewing on her glasses, and startling when Jose makes a loud sound and asks her if “something is wrong?”

The overweight employee was Caucasian.  Karen was African American.  Sally was Asian American.  I am uncertain what Jill’s ethnicity was.  Although the transcript indicates that the thief’s name was Jose, I would not have thought he was Hispanic from appearance.

Memories by Model – explain how each may have informed my memory of the events

It would seem the purpose of this exercise is to explicate the various processes involved in social categorization.  According to Smith and Zarate (1990) “social categorization permits inferences about target person’s characteristics … and may influence the perceiver’s affect and possible behaviors toward the target” (Smith & Zarate, 1990, p. 243).  The primary ways to socially categorize involve prototypes and exemplars.

Prototype.  A prototype is a generalized, abstracted concept made up of numerous similar representations of a concept.  “A prototype is a representation detailing a typical category member, summarized by the set of most common features that are most probable to be found in a category member” (Moskowitz, 2005, p. 164).  Further, “if a trait gets activated or perceivers label someone as being a certain type (e.g., geek, jock, princess, misfit, delinquent), then they think that this person has the other central features that make up the prototype for that personality trait” (Moskowitz, 2005, p. 164).  For instance, Jose stole Karen’s purse, which would easily translate into his being untrustworthy and dishonest.  Also, it may be easy for me to remember that Karen knows all the ins and outs of the building without needing the passkey because she is a smoker and smokers typically need to take frequent breaks away from others.  In the same vein, I could remember Sally’s anxiety and/or nervous behavior as representative of most employees on their first day of work because most individuals would be nervous on their first day and be a bit overwhelmed by all the new stimuli.  It is also possible that because Jill made a disparaging remark about the Mexican security firm that she may be racist.  On the other hand, she did say it in front of Karen (African American) and Sally (Asian American), which would seem contradictory for someone who stereotypes regularly.

Exemplar.  An exemplar is an organization of specific instances or examples collected and retained in memory for future comparison.  According to the exemplar category structure, categories are made up of specific examples of actual members (thus drawing on the information stored in episodic memory)” (Moskowitz, 2005, p. 165).  Exemplar representations could inform my memory of the vignette by conjuring up images of other individuals I have worked with in the past, those who were either overweight, snarky, condescending or negative, shy or conservative, dishonest or racist.  Another possible exemplar would be the overweight person eating at his desk, not even refuting Karen’s negative and snarky comment.  This exemplar would likely have been gleaned from media representations of individuals who work in cubicle environments, often without opportunity to move around or exercise.  Hence, leading to being overweight.  An exemplar representation for Sally would be conjuring up images of other individuals who have begun to work for the first time at a new job or position.  These persons are also typically quite (on the first day at least), cooperative, and compliant.  “The context can help to determine which category is most likely to be triggered and what types of exemplars will influenced processing” (Moskowitz, 2005, p. 166), i.e., what is most salient at the time.  For instance, is my attention focused on Karen and the fact that she is a smoker because I was once a smoker, or am is my attention focused on Jose who stole Karen’s purse and I was amazed at his brazen thievery in front of Sally?  Further, what is my goal for understanding the situation: Am a new employee? Am I a new employer?  Am I a vendor?  Am I simply trying to understand why this company is so dysfunctional?

Schema.  Organizational hierarchy developed over time through personal experiences.  Specifically, a schema is a “proposed organizational structure for the knowledge that comprises one’s categories.  A schema is defined by the fact that the features making up the category are stored in an abstract form” (Moskowitz, 2005, p. 155).  Schemas are also useful in determining what and how information is processed and stored in memory.  In fact, schemas store the entire hierarchy of information, prototypical or exemplar in our brain to be used whenever we process new information, try to understanding new social situations, or interpret events.

My Model

To be completely honest, the entire vignette seemed absolutely bizarre to me.  I reviewed the transcript twice, and watched the video twice.  I found it extremely confusing and nonsensical, at best.  After wracking my brain, I was able to categorize the behaviors exhibited by Sally, Karen, the overweight person, and Jill.  I am still rather unclear as to the point being made about Jose unless I am supposed to believe that because he is Hispanic he is a thief, which would be schema-incongruent for me.

Overall, the entire vignette was understood in bits and pieces through the combination of prototypical and exemplar information to be stored and referenced in my schema for office work.  It is possible I had such difficulty because I have absolutely no personal experience working in the type of environment depicted in the vignette.  With the exception of the few years I worked as a Secondary Instructor, I have always worked for a singular employer in a small law office, with no more than two or three individuals.  When our part-time paralegal comes in to work it is always a bit of a social occasion because there is someone new to socialize with, other than my boss who I spend the bulk of my time working with (40 hours a week).  On the other hand, although I do not have any personal experience working in cubicle offices, I am somewhat familiar with the concept through exposure in literary works, magazines, and media (television).  As a result, it is likely any exemplars relating to cubicle employees would have been acquired through media exposure to coalesce into my fuzzily constructed schema regarding what working in a large cubicle type employment facility would be like.  According to Fiske and Taylor (1991) “exemplars are separate instances of a category encountered by an individual and are frequently acquired through the course of media exposure (e.g., news reports, television portrayals) (as cited in Busselle & Shrum, 2003, p. 256).  In fact, in a study performed by Busselle and Shrum (2003) they found that for “some categories of events – those that frequently occur in the media, but infrequently occur in real life – greater exposure to television content that deals with these events can increase the accessibility of judgment-related exemplars” (Busselle & Shrum, 2003, p. 273).  Therefore, according to this research study, my lack of personal experience in cubicle employment and relationships that occur therein may result in overreliance on exemplars from my limited media exposure.  Perhaps, in this situation, I relied more on prototypical abstract concepts in understanding the situation because my schema is clearly vague in this regard.


Understanding of these concepts is paramount to my research as a social-practitioner in many ways.  For instance, as I have discovered, it is entirely possible that studies comprised of individuals with vastly different schemas, and prototypical and exemplar categorizations would necessarily interpret and respond differently to various stimuli in research studies.  It becomes all the more imperative to double and triple check the validity and reliability of materials being used in studies whenever cognition is a factor.  Moreover, I cannot fathom an instance when cognition is not a factor.  I definitely look forward to reading everyone’s responses to this discussion and seeing how everyone else responded to the assignment.




Busselle, R. W., & Shrum, L. J. (2003). Media exposure and exemplar accessibility. Media Psychology, 5(3), 255-282.

Moskowitz, G. B. (2005). Social cognition: Understanding self and others. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Smith, E. R., & Zarate, M. A. (1990). Exemplar and prototype use in social categorization. Social Cognition, 8(3), 243-262.….



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