Mental representation isa theoretical cognitive symbol that internally represents the external realitythat is used in psychology (cognitive psychology, neuroscience and cognitive science)and in the philosophy of mind. In other words, it is the way people createmodels about their surroundings, about what they perceive. According to Brentano(1874) representation is a mental phenomenon as follows: ‘Every mentalphenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages calledthe intentional in-existence of an object, and what we might call ..
.direction toward an object … Every mental phenomenon includes something asan object within itself, although they do not all do so in the same way.
Inpresentation something is presented, in judgement something is affirmed ordenied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired, and so on. Thisintentional in-existence is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. Nophysical phenomenon exhibits anything like it. We can, therefore, define mentalphenomena by saying that they are those phenomena which contain an objectintentionally within themselves.’ There are threedifferent ways of mental representations – they can either be stored as mental analogousimages, as symbols (words) or as more abstract, fundamental propositional thoughts.Even though both images and words can symbolise objects and ideas, neither ofthem are actually representing all the features of the subject beingrepresented. For example, no picture of a ship or the word ship itself canrepresent the object boat entirely, as they don’t float, they are not made outof wood or metal and they are most certainly not being controlled by a captainand a crew.
The image of a ship is analogous, in essence, it is similar to theship, showing concrete characteristics that are similar to the real-worldobject such as shape, colour and relative size. While looking at a picture, itmay be scanned from one direction or another, one may zoom in or out, there isno arbitrary rule for looking at the image, it will represent the same thing everyway. On the other hand, the word ship is a symbolic representation that has an arbitraryrelationship between the word and the real-world object it represents. Sincesymbols are arbitrary, there are certain rules that must be followed when theyare used (i.
e. the correct sequence of the sounds or letters and the grammaticaluse in sentences). Pictures also capture more concrete and spatial informationby conveying all features simultaneously. The analogous relationship betweenthe picture and what it represents ensures that there’s as much similarity aspossible. In contrast, words demonstrate categorical and abstract informationconveying information sequentially. (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2011) This essay aims tocompare and contrast three different models of mental representations, thedual-code theory, the propositional theory and the mental models. The dual-code theory wasintroduced by Paivio (1969, 1971) with the main idea that both pictorial andverbal codes are used equally to process information.
Information is organisedinto knowledge by two cognitive subsystems in order to store, retrieve and acton that information. According to the dual-code theory, people use both analogueand symbolic codes. Mental images are analogue codes resembling the objectsthat they are representing. These mental images are analogous to the physicalstimuli that are observed. Mental representations for words are symbolic codesrepresenting words. These symbolic codes do not resemble what they are describing.Numerals and concepts are usually represented symbolically.
(Sternberg & Sternberg, 2011) According to Paivio,verbal information and pictorial information are processed differently. In one ofhis studies (Paivio, 1969) participants were asked to recall information thatthey have seen as a rapid sequence of words and as a rapid sequence of pictures.They either had to recall as many items as they could in any order or in thecorrect sequence. In the first case participants more easily recalled imagesthan words, while they were better recalling words in the sequence. This studysupported Paivio’s theory that two different systems are used to recallsymbolic and pictorial information. In another study ofPaivio (1971), he gave a list of pictures and words to the participants to memorise.Participants were better at recalling pictures than words, thus Paivio claimedthat the cognitive subsystem responsible for recalling images is superior tothe one recalling symbols since while seeing a picture people also representthat picture verbally (symbolically). An experiment of Brooks(1968) has found evidence that supports the dual-code theory by testing the interactionof visual perception and visual imagery and the interference of verbal stimulusand verbal response.
Participants had to complete either visual or verbal tasksby either receiving a visual stimulus (a briefly presented picture) or a verbalstimulus (a briefly stated sentence). The participants had to express theiranswer verbally (by saying the answer), visually (by pointing to the answer) ormanually (by tapping to agree or disagree with the answer). Brooks expected tofind a connection in two conditions: during the visual task requiring thatrequired a visual response and during the verbal task that required a verbalresponse. Brooks’ hypothesis was confirmed, participants were more accurate andfaster when they had to respond to a visual stimulus verbally or manually, andthey were also faster and more accurate responding visually or manually to verbalstimuli. This suggested that visual perception is able to interfere with a visuallymanipulated task and that verbal expression is able to interfere with amentally manipulated task. The evidence supporting the dual-code theory is thefinding that suggests that two detached cognitive subsystems are used formental representation.
An alternative theory onmental representations called propositional theory was developed by those whodid not subscribe to the dual-code theory (Anderson & Bower, 1973;Pylyshyn, 1973, 1984; 2006). According to the propositional theory, mentalrepresentations are not stored in the form of images or words, people are onlyexperiencing them because they are only the epiphenomenal, secondary results ofbasic cognitive processes. Propositional theory suggests that mentalrepresentations duplicate this abstract model of a proposition. A propositionis the meaning that underlies a particular interaction between concepts. Somepsychologists have moved beyond their original concept to a more complextheories (Anderson and Bower) while others still agree with the propositionaltheory (Pylyshyn).
(Sternberg & Sternberg, 2011) To express theunderlying meaning of a relationship, ‘predicate calculus’, a shorthand wasdevised by logicians. This ‘predicate calculus’ aims to extract the numeroussuperficial differences in the methods of describing the deeper explanation ofa proposition: ‘ Relationship between elements (Subject element, Objectelement) ‘ This logical expression would naturally be translated into asuitable format for the brain to represent it internally. (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2011) The hypothetical constructof proposition may be popular amongst cognitive psychologists because it can beused to interpret any kind of relationship from action, through attributes topositions. These propositions can be combined as well leaving endlesspossibilities to explain more complex phenomena. The propositional form ofmental representations is an abstract form describing elemental meanings ofknowledge rather than merely being constructed of words or images. A study by Clark andChase (1972) examined how people compare sentences against pictures. Participantshad to decide whether a sentence about a picture was true or false. Findings ofthe experiment suggested the hypothesises that ‘(1) sentences are representedin terms of elementary propositions; (2) pictures are encoded in the sameinterpretive format; (3) these two codes are compared in an algorithmic seriesof mental operations, each of which contributes additively to the responselatency; and (4) sentence encoding, picture encoding, comparing, and respondingare four serially ordered stages, and their component latencies are additive.
‘ Sinceboth images and verbal statements are mentally represented regarding of theirdeep meaning (as propositions) instead of specific pictures and symbols. Afterbeing encoded and stored as propositions, the pictorial and verbal informationare retrieved when people need to use them creating the verbal or imaginal codeof it accurately. An experiment conductedby Talasli (1990) examined the techniques that were used to evaluate cognitiverepresentations. Participants viewed pictures that were previously modified bygrid patterns and had to perform recognition tasks that were testing both theirimagery and their propositional codes.
Results of the study suggested that the participantshave used both propositional and imagery codes when completing the tasks thatrequired picture recognition. These results of the experiment led Talasli to theconclusion that imagery and propositional encoding are both occurring for pictorialinformation, and that both types of codes can be used to increase performanceon cognitive tasks. Thetheory of mental models was first proposed by Peirce (1931-1968) who statedthat reasoning is the process what through a person ‘examines the state ofthings asserted in the premisses, forms a diagram of that state of things,perceives in the parts of the diagram relations not explicitly mentioned in thepremisses, satisfies itself by mental experiments upon the diagram that theserelations would always subsist, or at least would do so in a certain proportionof cases, and concludes their necessary, or probable, truth’. Theconcept was later reinvented by Craik (1943), composing basis of mental modelsby generally explaining the human thoughts. According to Craik, people constructworking ‘small-scale’ models of reality and of certain phenomena to understandthem.
These mental models are correspondent to the real-life subjects they arerepresenting. Mental representation according to mental models are not visual orsymbolic representations of the real life case, nor are they more complexrepresentations. They can represent more complex, scientific concepts likeelectricity or natural phenomena. This theory is applicable to nearly all humaninteractions with nature, objects, and other humans. As it can be seen from the brief description of all three concepts,they vary in many aspects. Dual-code theory suggests that both pictorial andsymbolical information are stored in different cognitive subsystems and are actedon and recalled separately.
One problem with this concept is coming from thelimitation of mental images in the case of ambiguous figures that can be interpretedin more than one ways. Since the recollection of these ambiguous figures islimited it may be indicated that the recollection of these representations maynot be truly analogical to the perceived pictures. (Chambers & Reisberg,1985, 1992). In the case of particular shapes researchers have found somelimitations to mental representations of them as well. (Reed, 1974) Propositionaltheory suggests that mental representations are not stored in the form ofimages or words but they are rather duplicating an abstract model of aproposition. However, there is some evidence supporting that propositional codeis not necessary to manipulate information since mental images can directly bemanipulated (Finke, Pinker, & Farah, 1989) In a different studyparticipants were able to reinterpret the famous image of the duck-rabbit figure(it can be seen as a duck and as a rabbit as well) by using hints. (Peterson etal.
, 1992). The theory of mental models suggests that people construct working ‘small-scale’models of reality. The theory of mental models is incomplete and has manylimitations since it builds on the assumption of logical calculus. Overall, itcan be stated that there is evidence supporting that there are multiple codesinvolving mental representations rather than just a single code.
The debate ondifferent mental representations is a still ongoing debate that leadspsychologists to engage in improved experiments, exceptional theories and moreand more original hypotheses on the topic.