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In the field of psychology schema (pl. schemata) refers to patterns or thought structures that represent some aspect of the world. People use schemata, built up over time from experience, to organize knowledge as a means to understand what they perceive in the present. Schemata includes stereotypes, social roles, worldview, and archetypes.

Schemata are critical to effective cognition and decision making. Without schemata or mental models, effective decisions would be impossible as the data and information used would be incoherent to the decision maker. On the other hand, when a schema or mental model does not fit reality, but the decision maker believes it does, the results can be disastrous.