Introduction

For centuries philosophers, linguists, and psychologists have puzzled over how we organise and represent the world "inside our heads". A representation is any notation or sign or set of symbols that "re-presents" something to us, in the absence of that thing. Mental representation deals with the what and how of representation in the mind. Paivio (1986) has proposed that the problem of mental representation might be the most difficult problem to solve in all of the sciences. Of course, topics that experts find difficult, become waking nightmares for students. You should, therefore, read this chapter carefully and thoughtfully.

This chapter and the following one are foundational. For the most part, we deal with research that has been carried out some years ago, but is of fundamental importance to cognitive psychology. In this chapter, we discuss the different ways in which knowledge appears to be organised (i.e., objects, relations, schemata) and how it can be represented in different formats (i.e., images or propositions). In Chapter 10, we look in more detail at objects, concepts, and categories. In subsequent chapters, we consider how this knowledge is used in other mental activities, like reading, speaking, problem solving, and reasoning.

In general, several distinctions can be made between representations (see Figure 9.1). A broad distinction can be made between the external representations of everyday life (e.g., writing, pictures, and diagrams) and our "internal", mental representations. Mental representations can be viewed from two main perspectives: symbolic and analogical representations. However, with the emergence of connectionism, theorists have proposed the notion of sub-symbolic, mental representations; these are "distributed representations" stored as patterns of activation in connectionist networks (see Chapter 1). Most of this chapter presents the traditional symbolic view, but later we review the alternative connectionist position.

Outline of chapter

In the next section, we consider the key distinction that can be made between propositional and analogical representations using differences in external representations to illustrate the point. Then, we consider the propositional representations that have been proposed to characterise object concepts, relational concepts, and more complex conceptual structures called schemata. The remainder of the chapter covers analogical representations, mainly visual images, reviewing the evidence and theory in this area. Later we consider neurological evidence on visual imagery before finishing the chapter on connectionist representations. Much of the work reviewed in this chapter is of a historical nature that lays the groundwork for many subsequent chapters.

Representations

Representations

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