IV. The Schema as Maladaptive

However adaptive a schema may be, it will also be maladaptive to the extent that built-in biases compromise data so that perceptions will conform to expectations and desires. In addition, a schema's behavioral program (which presumably was adaptive when formed) might become maladaptive as conditions change. If fundamental conditions change significantly, maintaining a schema may be maladaptive. On the other hand, altering behavior to fit fantasies may also be maladaptive. Just when and how much change is needed are very subjective matters, and the schema is inherently biased about maintaining both its integrity and existence.

In general, schemas tend to be conservative, with norms organizing behavioral systems into rituals that prevent effective responses to significant change. Habits may originate as functional patterns of behavior but later may serve more to promote group complacence than group competence. At worst, such rituals become sacred and form the trappings of a religious system, with the devout satisfied just to repeat habitual responses. The rituals may then serve as reinforcing rewards in and of themselves without reference and often without relevance to the environment.

Such rituals can be a major stumbling block in rapidly developing organizations in that new problems emerge which are unrecognized so their solutions remain beyond the ritualized coping mechanisms of the establishment. A case in point was Henry Ford's car company in the 1930's and early '40's. What it needed was a modern system of corporate administration which could guide it through the challenges induced by changes of styling in the marketplace, labor problems due to the Depression and the growth of government controls accompanying World War II: what it had was a leader who clung stubbornly to an antiquated system which was totally unequal to the demands of the new era. The result was that Ford slid into third place in sales behind General Motors and Chrysler.

It is patently stupid to hang on to a dysfunctional schema while leaving obvious needs unattended. However, rather than dropping old schemas and creating new ones suited to emerging conditions, groups usually bend traditional schemas to new purposes. While this gives a society a sense of continuity, cultural identity may become confused as organizations and institutions take on new and perhaps incongruous roles. For example,