Mental within itself, although they do not all do


Mental representation is
a theoretical cognitive symbol that internally represents the external reality
that is used in psychology (cognitive psychology, neuroscience and cognitive science)
and in the philosophy of mind. In other words, it is the way people create
models about their surroundings, about what they perceive. According to Brentano
(1874) representation is a mental phenomenon as follows: ‘Every mental
phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called
the intentional in-existence of an object, and what we might call …

direction toward an object … Every mental phenomenon includes something as
an object within itself, although they do not all do so in the same way. In
presentation something is presented, in judgement something is affirmed or
denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired, and so on. This
intentional in-existence is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No
physical phenomenon exhibits anything like it. We can, therefore, define mental
phenomena by saying that they are those phenomena which contain an object
intentionally within themselves.’

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There are three
different ways of mental representations – they can either be stored as mental analogous
images, as symbols (words) or as more abstract, fundamental propositional thoughts.

Even though both images and words can symbolise objects and ideas, neither of
them are actually representing all the features of the subject being
represented. For example, no picture of a ship or the word ship itself can
represent the object boat entirely, as they don’t float, they are not made out
of wood or metal and they are most certainly not being controlled by a captain
and a crew. The image of a ship is analogous, in essence, it is similar to the
ship, showing concrete characteristics that are similar to the real-world
object such as shape, colour and relative size. While looking at a picture, it
may be scanned from one direction or another, one may zoom in or out, there is
no arbitrary rule for looking at the image, it will represent the same thing every
way. On the other hand, the word ship is a symbolic representation that has an arbitrary
relationship between the word and the real-world object it represents. Since
symbols are arbitrary, there are certain rules that must be followed when they
are used (i.e. the correct sequence of the sounds or letters and the grammatical
use in sentences). Pictures also capture more concrete and spatial information
by conveying all features simultaneously. The analogous relationship between
the picture and what it represents ensures that there’s as much similarity as
possible. In contrast, words demonstrate categorical and abstract information
conveying information sequentially. (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2011)


This essay aims to
compare and contrast three different models of mental representations, the
dual-code theory, the propositional theory and the mental models.


The dual-code theory was
introduced by Paivio (1969, 1971) with the main idea that both pictorial and
verbal codes are used equally to process information. Information is organised
into knowledge by two cognitive subsystems in order to store, retrieve and act
on that information. According to the dual-code theory, people use both analogue
and symbolic codes. Mental images are analogue codes resembling the objects
that they are representing. These mental images are analogous to the physical
stimuli that are observed. Mental representations for words are symbolic codes
representing 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 of
his studies (Paivio, 1969) participants were asked to recall information that
they 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 the
correct sequence. In the first case participants more easily recalled images
than words, while they were better recalling words in the sequence. This study
supported Paivio’s theory that two different systems are used to recall
symbolic and pictorial information.


In another study of
Paivio (1971), he gave a list of pictures and words to the participants to memorise.

Participants were better at recalling pictures than words, thus Paivio claimed
that the cognitive subsystem responsible for recalling images is superior to
the one recalling symbols since while seeing a picture people also represent
that picture verbally (symbolically).


An experiment of Brooks
(1968) has found evidence that supports the dual-code theory by testing the interaction
of visual perception and visual imagery and the interference of verbal stimulus
and verbal response. Participants had to complete either visual or verbal tasks
by either receiving a visual stimulus (a briefly presented picture) or a verbal
stimulus (a briefly stated sentence). The participants had to express their
answer verbally (by saying the answer), visually (by pointing to the answer) or
manually (by tapping to agree or disagree with the answer). Brooks expected to
find a connection in two conditions: during the visual task requiring that
required a visual response and during the verbal task that required a verbal
response. Brooks’ hypothesis was confirmed, participants were more accurate and
faster when they had to respond to a visual stimulus verbally or manually, and
they were also faster and more accurate responding visually or manually to verbal
stimuli. This suggested that visual perception is able to interfere with a visually
manipulated task and that verbal expression is able to interfere with a
mentally manipulated task. The evidence supporting the dual-code theory is the
finding that suggests that two detached cognitive subsystems are used for
mental representation.


An alternative theory on
mental representations called propositional theory was developed by those who
did not subscribe to the dual-code theory (Anderson & Bower, 1973;
Pylyshyn, 1973, 1984; 2006). According to the propositional theory, mental
representations are not stored in the form of images or words, people are only
experiencing them because they are only the epiphenomenal, secondary results of
basic cognitive processes. Propositional theory suggests that mental
representations duplicate this abstract model of a proposition. A proposition
is the meaning that underlies a particular interaction between concepts. Some
psychologists have moved beyond their original concept to a more complex
theories (Anderson and Bower) while others still agree with the propositional
theory (Pylyshyn). (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2011)


To express the
underlying meaning of a relationship, ‘predicate calculus’, a shorthand was
devised by logicians. This ‘predicate calculus’ aims to extract the numerous
superficial differences in the methods of describing the deeper explanation of
a proposition: ‘ Relationship between elements (Subject element, Object
element) ‘ This logical expression would naturally be translated into a
suitable format for the brain to represent it internally. (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2011)


The hypothetical construct
of proposition may be popular amongst cognitive psychologists because it can be
used to interpret any kind of relationship from action, through attributes to
positions. These propositions can be combined as well leaving endless
possibilities to explain more complex phenomena. The propositional form of
mental representations is an abstract form describing elemental meanings of
knowledge rather than merely being constructed of words or images.


A study by Clark and
Chase (1972) examined how people compare sentences against pictures. Participants
had to decide whether a sentence about a picture was true or false. Findings of
the experiment suggested the hypothesises that ‘(1) sentences are represented
in terms of elementary propositions; (2) pictures are encoded in the same
interpretive format; (3) these two codes are compared in an algorithmic series
of mental operations, each of which contributes additively to the response
latency; and (4) sentence encoding, picture encoding, comparing, and responding
are four serially ordered stages, and their component latencies are additive.’ Since
both images and verbal statements are mentally represented regarding of their
deep meaning (as propositions) instead of specific pictures and symbols. After
being encoded and stored as propositions, the pictorial and verbal information
are retrieved when people need to use them creating the verbal or imaginal code
of it accurately.


An experiment conducted
by Talasli (1990) examined the techniques that were used to evaluate cognitive
representations. Participants viewed pictures that were previously modified by
grid patterns and had to perform recognition tasks that were testing both their
imagery and their propositional codes. Results of the study suggested that the participants
have used both propositional and imagery codes when completing the tasks that
required picture recognition. These results of the experiment led Talasli to the
conclusion that imagery and propositional encoding are both occurring for pictorial
information, and that both types of codes can be used to increase performance
on cognitive tasks.


theory of mental models was first proposed by Peirce (1931-1968) who stated
that reasoning is the process what through a person ‘examines the state of
things asserted in the premisses, forms a diagram of that state of things,
perceives in the parts of the diagram relations not explicitly mentioned in the
premisses, satisfies itself by mental experiments upon the diagram that these
relations would always subsist, or at least would do so in a certain proportion
of cases, and concludes their necessary, or probable, truth’.

concept was later reinvented by Craik (1943), composing basis of mental models
by generally explaining the human thoughts. According to Craik, people construct
working ‘small-scale’ models of reality and of certain phenomena to understand
them. These mental models are correspondent to the real-life subjects they are
representing. Mental representation according to mental models are not visual or
symbolic representations of the real life case, nor are they more complex
representations. They can represent more complex, scientific concepts like
electricity or natural phenomena. This theory is applicable to nearly all human
interactions 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 and
symbolical information are stored in different cognitive subsystems and are acted
on and recalled separately. One problem with this concept is coming from the
limitation of mental images in the case of ambiguous figures that can be interpreted
in more than one ways. Since the recollection of these ambiguous figures is
limited it may be indicated that the recollection of these representations may
not be truly analogical to the perceived pictures. (Chambers & Reisberg,
1985, 1992). In the case of particular shapes researchers have found some
limitations to mental representations of them as well. (Reed, 1974) Propositional
theory suggests that mental representations are not stored in the form of
images or words but they are rather duplicating an abstract model of a
proposition. However, there is some evidence supporting that propositional code
is not necessary to manipulate information since mental images can directly be
manipulated (Finke, Pinker, & Farah, 1989) In a different study
participants 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 et
al., 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 many
limitations since it builds on the assumption of logical calculus. Overall, it
can be stated that there is evidence supporting that there are multiple codes
involving mental representations rather than just a single code. The debate on
different mental representations is a still ongoing debate that leads
psychologists to engage in improved experiments, exceptional theories and more
and more original hypotheses on the topic.