Scriptlets and MOPs

In Dynamic Memory (1982), I proposed two different types of memory structures that we use to capture knowledge. The first were called "scripts" in that book. I now call them "scriptlets" to emphasize their limited scope. Scriptlets are memory structures that capture what we know about how things happen in typical situations we find ourselves in. Scriptlets are confined to small portions of our experience located within one physical scene. Examples of scriptlets include looking at a menu, putting ketchup on a hamburger, brushing one's teeth, or parking the car.

Scriptlets are extremely important in human cognition. The secret to being skilled is bound up in them. When we say we know how to do something, we are often referring to some set of scriptlets we have built up over the years. Such scriptlets often operate subconsciously. We can use them quite fluidly, but we may have difficulty describing just what it is they contain to someone who wishes to develop the same ability.

Since scriptlets cover such small portions of our expertise, we need to have other structures which tie them into larger sequences. A second type of structure serves this function. I call these MOPs (for Memory Organization Packets). MOPs contain knowledge about typical sequences of events; they break down events into individual scenes. A restaurant MOP, for example, contains scenes such as "being seated," or "ordering," or "paying." Those scenes then point to scriptlets which contain our knowledge about how to understand and handle ourselves in those situations.

The splitting up of memory into the two levels of scriptlets and MOPs gives us a critical ability. It allows us to take what we learn in doing one task and apply it to another task (to the extent that those tasks share common scriptlets). Thus, for example, one might pay for a meal in a restaurant, an airplane ticket, and a hospital visit in much the same way -- by going to a person seated behind a counter and presenting a credit card, taking a form which the person fills out, signing it, and keeping one copy. Of course, there are differences between paying in each situation, which means that what we know about the scene must be "colored" by different MOPs. Nevertheless, we can transfer what we learned in a scene while using one MOP and apply it while using another. For example, if you find out that you sign credit card forms wrong when at a restaurant and are corrected, you will probably sign the next one you get right even if you are at the travel agent. We use scriptlets to capture commonalties and transfer learning between the MOPs that organize our experiences on a larger scale.

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