Images and Cognitive Maps

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Images and Cognitive Maps
Chapter 7 Thought, Language, and Intelligence
world. If you borrow a friend’s car, your “car” schema will give you a good idea of where
to put the ignition key, where the accelerator and brake are, and how to raise and lower
the windows. Schemas also generate expectations about objects, places, events, and
people—telling us that stereo systems have speakers, that picnics occur in the summer,
that rock concerts are loud, and so on.
Applying a Mental Model
Try to imagine the path that
the ball will follow when it
leaves the curved tube. In one
study, most people drew the incorrect
(curved) path indicated by the dotted line,
rather than the correct (straight) path
indicated by the dashed line (McCloskey,
1983). Their error was based on the
construction of a faulty mental model of
the behavior of physical objects.
Scripts Schemas about familiar activities, such as going to a restaurant, are known
as scripts (Anderson, 2000). Your “restaurant” script represents the sequence of events
you can expect when you go out to eat. That script tells you what to do when you are
in a restaurant and helps you to understand stories involving restaurants (Whitney,
2001). Scripts also shape your interpretation of events. For example, on your first day
of college, you no doubt assumed that the person standing at the front of the class was
a teacher, not a security guard or a janitor.
If our scripts are violated, however, it is easy to misinterpret events. In one case, a
heart attack victim in London lay for nine hours in the hallway of an apartment
building after an ambulance crew smelled alcohol on his breath and assumed he was
“sleeping it off.” The crew’s script for what happens in the poorer sections of big cities
told them that someone slumped in a hallway is drunk, not sick. Because scriptviolating events are unexpected, our reactions to them tend to be slower and less effective than are our reactions to expected events. Your “grocery shopping” script, for example, probably includes pushing a cart, putting items in it, going to the checkout stand,
paying, and leaving. But suppose you are at the back of the store when a robber near
the entrance fires a gun and shouts at the manager to open the safe. People sometimes
ignore these script-violating events, interpreting gunshots as a car backfiring and
shouted orders as “someone fooling around.” Others simply “freeze,” unsure of what to
do or not realizing that they could call the police on their cell phones.
Mental Models The relationships among concepts can be organized not only as
schemas and scripts but also as mental models (Johnson-Laird, 1983). For example,
suppose someone tells you, “My living room has blue walls, a white ceiling, and an oval
window across from the door.” You will mentally represent this information as propositions about how the concepts “wall,” “blue,” “ceiling,” “white,” “door,” “oval,” and “window” are related. However, you will also combine these propositions to create in your
mind a three-dimensional model of the room. As more information about the world
becomes available, either from existing memories or from new information we receive,
our mental models become more complete.
Accurate mental models are excellent guides for thinking about, and interacting
with, many of the things we encounter every day (Ashcraft, 2006). If a mental model
is incorrect, however, we are likely to make mistakes (see Figure 7.3). For example, people who hold an incorrect mental model of how physical illness is cured might stop
taking their antibiotic medication when their symptoms begin to disappear, well before
the bacteria causing those symptoms have been eliminated (Medin, Ross, & Markman,
2001). Others overdose on medication because, according to their faulty mental model,
“if taking three pills a day is good, taking six would be even better.”
Images and Cognitive Maps
scripts Mental representations of
familiar sequences of activity.
mental models Sets of propositions
that represent people’s understanding
of how things look and work.
images Mental representations of
visual information.
cognitive map A mental model that
represents familiar parts of the
Think about how your best friend would look in a clown suit. The “mental picture”
you just got illustrates that thinking often involves the manipulation of images—which
are mental representations of visual information. We can manipulate these images in a
way that is similar to manipulating the objects themselves (Reed, 2000; see Figure 7.4).
Our ability to think using images extends beyond the manipulation of stimuli such as
those in Figure 7.4. We also create mental images that serve as mental models of
descriptions we hear or read (Mazoyer et al., 2002). For example, you probably created
an image a minute ago when you read about that blue-walled room.
The same thing happens when someone gives you directions to a new pizza place
in town. In this case, you scan your cognitive map—a mental model of familiar
in review
Mental Representations: The Ingredients of Thought
Categories of objects, events,
or ideas with common
properties; basic building
blocks of thought
“Square” (a formal concept);
“game” (a natural concept)
Mental representations that
express relationships between
concepts; can be true or false
Assertions such as “The cow
jumped over the the moon.”
Sets of propositions that
create generalizations and
expectations about categories
of objects, places, events, and
A schema might suggest
that all grandmothers are
elderly, are gray haired, and
bake a lot of cookies.
Schemas about familiar
activities and situations; guide
behavior in those situations
You pay before eating in
fast-food restaurants
and after eating in fancier
Mental models
A representation of how
concepts relate to each
other in the real world;
can be correct or incorrect
Mistakenly assuming that
airflow around an open car
will send thrown objects
upward, a driver tosses a
lighted cigarette butt
overhead, causing it to
land in the back seat.
Mental representations
of visual information
Hearing a description of
your blind date creates a
mental picture of him
or her.
Cognitive maps
Mental representations of
familiar parts of the world
You can get to class by
an alternate route even if
your usual route is blocked
by construction.
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Tutorial: Rotating Mental
Source: Shepard & Metzler (1971).
Manipulating Images
Are these pairs of objects the
same or different? To decide,
you will have to rotate one
member of each pair. Because manipulating mental images, like manipulating
actual objects, takes some time, the speed
of your decision will depend on how far
you have to mentally rotate one object to
line it up with the other for comparison.
(The top pair matches; the bottom pair
does not.) Brain imaging studies have
confirmed that manipulating mental
images activates some of the same visual
and spatial areas of the brain that are
active during comparable tasks with real
objects (Mazoyer et al., 2002).
1. Thinking is the manipulation of
2. Arguments over what is “fair” occur because “fairness” is a
3. Your
of “hotel room” would lead you to expect yours to include a
parts of your world—to find the location. In doing so, you use a mental process similar to the visual process of scanning a paper map (Anderson, 2000; Taylor & Tversky,
1992). Manipulating images on a different cognitive map would help you if a power
failure left your home pitch dark. Even though you couldn’t see a thing, you could
still find a flashlight or candle, because your cognitive map would show the floor
plan, furniture placement, door locations, and other physical features of your home.
You would not have this mental map in a hotel room or an unfamiliar house; there,
you would have to walk slowly, arms outstretched, to avoid wrong turns and painful
collisions. In the chapter on learning we describe how experience shapes cognitive
maps that help animals navigate mazes and people navigate shopping malls. (“In
Review: Ingredients of Thought” summarizes the ways in which we mentally represent information.)
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