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Understanding and production of messages and social behaviors are based on communicators’ prior knowledge, which is organized and structured by schemas. Scripts are event schemas, that is, they structure common and ritualized activities that involve a sequence of actions. A script is a sequential list of characteristic actions of events or activities, such as eating at a restaurant or attending a birthday party.
Scripts guide one’s actions, expectations, and understandings during the enactment of the script-based activities. Schank and Abelson (1977) introduced the concept, which consists of the name of the script, roles, props, entry conditions, results, and scenes. The concept generated many predictions related to the structure, nature, and use of memory. The ‘typicality effect’ occurs when people encounter the information that fits the activated script well. The ‘atypicality effect’ takes place when people encounter information that does not fit the script. Comparing the two types of effects, the typicality effect lasts longer: while recognition and recall memory is initially better for atypical than typical actions, the rate of forgetting is greater for the tagged atypical actions than for tagged typical actions.
Schank (1982) developed a more flexible theory, called ‘dynamic memory theory,’ and a less rigid concept, called a ‘memory organization packet’ or MOP. Schank’s (1982) reformulated theory differentiated four levels of memory: (1) event memory (EM), (2) generalized event memory (GEM), (3) situational memory (SM), and (4) intentional memory (IM). EM contains specific remembrances of particular situations. GEM is a collection of events whose common features have been abstracted. SM contains relevant contexts, and the rules and standard experiences associated with a given situation in general. While information about dentists resides in GEM, SM contains more general information like ‘going to a health professional’s office.’ IM, the highest level of memory, includes the rules for getting people to do things for oneself and other plan-like information.
A MOP, a memory structure at the level of situational memory, keeps information about how memories are linked in frequently occurring combinations. The basic building blocks of MOPs are scenes, which are groupings of generalized actions with a shared instrumental goal. What a MOP does is to prescribe how scenes are linked together in order to accomplish a higher-order goal. The number of scenes is limited, and any given scene can be used by many different MOPs. For example, the waiting room scene can be organized by most MOPs that seek help from a professional. A MOP, a memory structure at the level of situational memory, keeps information about how memories are linked in frequently occurring combinations. The basic building blocks of MOPs are scenes, which are groupings of generalized actions with a shared instrumental goal. What a MOP does is to prescribe how scenes are linked together in order to accomplish a higher-order goal. The number of scenes is limited, and any given scene can be used by many different MOPs. For example, the waiting room scene can be organized by most MOPs that seek help from a professional.
Scripts have been investigated in communication research in two primary ways. First, a group of researchers have examined the role of scripts in social relationships. For instance, Honeycutt et al. (1989) reported that a prototypical relational escalation memory structure contained 13 typical behaviors. Sexual scripts (see La France 2010), informal, initial conversation MOPs, and initial interaction scripts describe other roles of scripts in interpersonal communication. A second use of MOPs in communication research is in the domain of small group communication.
- Honeycutt, J. M., Cantrill, J. G., & Greene, R. W. (1989). Memory structures for relational escalation: A cognitive test of the sequencing of relational actions and stages. Human Communication Research, 16, 62–90.
- Kellermann, K. & Lim, T. (1990). The conversational MOP III: Timing of scenes in discourse. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1163–1179.
- La France, B. H. (2010). What verbal and nonverbal communication cues lead to sex? An analysis of the traditional sexual script. Communication Quarterly, 58(3), 297–318
- Pavitt, C. & Johnson, K. K. (2001). The association between group procedural MOPs and group discussion procedure. Small Group Research, 32, 595–624.
- Schank, R. C. (1982). Dynamic memory: A theory of reminding and learning in computers and people. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Schank, R. C. & Abelson, R. P. (1977). Scripts, plans, goals, and understanding: An inquiry into human knowledge structures. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.