Mental model

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A mental model is an explanation of someone's thought process for how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person's intuitive perception about their own acts and their consequences. Our mental models help shape our behaviour and define our approach to solving problems and carrying out tasks.


[edit] Overview

A mental model is a kind of internal symbol or representation of external reality, hypothesized to play a major role in cognition and decision-making. Once formed, mental models may replace carefully considered analysis as a means of conserving time and energy.

A simple example is the mental model of a wild animal as dangerous: upon encountering a raccoon or a snake, one who holds this model will likely retreat from the animal as if by reflex. Retreat is the result of the application of the mental model, and would probably not be the immediate reaction of one whose mental model of wild animals was formed solely from experience with similar stuffed toy animals, or who had not yet formed any mental models about wild raccoons or snakes.

According to the theory of mental model we are saving all perceived stimulations and observations to the memory in the form of model , which is designed on the basis sensual information and is combined with already saved informations. Prof. Jay Wright Forrester defined mental model as: "The image of the world around us, which carry in our head, is just a model. Nobody in his head imagin all over the world, government or country. He has only selected concepts and relationships between them and those used to represent the real system.[1]

[edit] Characteristic

Mental model is generally:

  • found on hardly qualifiable, impugnable, obscure, or incomplete facts
  • Flexibility - is considerably variable in positive as well as in negative sense
  • effects as information filter - causes selective perception , perception of us only selected parts of information
  • compared with the complexities surrounding the world is very limited and even when the model is extensive and in accordance with a certain reality in the derivation of logical consequences of it we are very limited. We must take into account such as restrictions on working memory - ie. well-known rule on the maximum number of elements that we are suddenly able to remember, gestaltismus or failure of the principles of logic, etc.
  • source of information, which can not find anywhere else are available at any time and can be used, if other routes are possible, which is linked with the fact that it is not always clearly understood by the other and the process of interpretation can be interpreted in different ways[1][2][3]

Frequently cited example of the relationship between formal logic and usual thinking is Wason's experiment:

Experimental person is given a set of four cards that are printed on one side with letters and the other with numbers. Let us have cards such as D - F - 3 - 7. Which cards are necessary to turn around, to prove the claim: "If the D on the card, then on the other side is 3"? This example is solved properly only by 1 / 4 of people.
When we rewrite this example to the form more similar to our every day situations, the solution appears to be much easier.
Imagine that we are pub owners who comply with the law on not serving alcohol drinks to minors. There are 4 people sitting by the table. One drink lemonade, second drink beer, the third is 50 and fourth is 16. What we need to check? This question is correctly answered by 3 / 4 of respondents.[4][5]

[edit] Expression of mental models

Three basic forms are used[1]:

  • Hexagons - through them we can express the essential dependencies in the population. Items that are sharing the edge are related
  • Causal loop diagrams - are used to display tendency and a direction of information connections and the resulting causality
  • Flow diagram - a most perfect way to express a dynamic system

[edit] Mental model in relation to the system dynamics and systemic thinking

The simplification of reality, you create so that we were able to find a sense of reality, seeking to overcome systemic thinking and system dynamics.

These two disciplines to help us construct a better co-ordinated with the reality of mental models and simulate it accurately. They increase the probability that the consequences of how we will decide and act in accordance with how we plan to.[1]

  • System dynamics - extending our mental models through the creation of explicit models, which are clear, easily communicating and can be compared with each other.
  • Systemic thinking - seeking the means to improve the mental models and thereby improve the quality of dynamic decisions that are based on mental models

[edit] Single and double-loop learning

After analyzing the basic characteristics, it is necessary to bring the process of change mental models, or the process of learning. Learning is a back-loop process and feedback can be illustrated as:

[edit] Single-loop learning

Our mental models affect the way we work with the information and to determine the final decision. The decision itself is changing, but the mental models remain the same. It is predominant method of learning, because it is very convenient. One established mental model is fixed, so the next decision is very fast.


As an example temperature control thermostat. "Mental model" of thermostat will be its structure and set the objective (20oC), the information feedback form data from the thermometer. Decision in this case is a signal for the thermal unit. The decision is amended, the structure of the system remains unchanged.[2]

[edit] Double-loop learning

Is used when it is necessary to change the mental model from which depends on our decision. Unlike simple loops in this model try to shift in the understanding of the static to a dynamic, broader, such as taking into account the changes in the surroundings and the need for expression changes in mental models.[2]

[edit] History

The term is believed to have been originated by Kenneth Craik in his 1943 book The Nature of Explanation. After the early death of Craik in a bicycle accident, the idea was not elaborated on until much later. Before Craik, Georges-Henri Luquet had already developed this idea to some extent: in his seminal book Le dessin enfantin (Children's Drawings), published in 1927 by Alcan, Paris, he argued that children obviously construct internal models, a view that influenced, among others, Jean Piaget.

Two books, both titled Mental Models, appeared in 1983 [6] One was by Philip Johnson-Laird, a professor at Princeton University's Department of Psychology. The other was a collection of articles edited by Dedre Gentner and Albert Stevens. The first line of this book helps explain the idea further: "One function of this chapter is to belabor the obvious; people's views of the world, of themselves, of their own capabilities, and of the tasks that they are asked to perform, or topics they are asked to learn, depend heavily on the conceptualizations that they bring to the task." See Mental Models (Gentner-Stevens book).

Since then there has been much discussion and use of the idea in human-computer interaction and usability by people such as Donald Norman and by Steve Krug in his book Don't Make Me Think. Walter Kintsch and Teun A. van Dijk, using the term situation model (in their book Strategies of Discourse Comprehension, 1983), showed the relevance of mental models for the production and comprehension of discourse.

[edit] Language to express the system of thought

For a description of the structure is used in general to understand the universal graphic symbols, which can describe the structure of generating behavior of any system in time. If individual elements correctly defined, it is possible for a computer in a software model to simulate and interpret the results (eg in the form of graphs).

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d Šusta, Marek. "Několik slov o systémové dynamice a systémovém myšlení" (in czech) (PDF). Proverbs, a.s.. 3-9. Retrieved on 15.1.2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Mildeova, S., Vojtko V. (2003) (in czech). Systémová dynamika. Prague: Oeconomica. p. 19-24. ISBN 80-245-0626-2. 
  3. ^ Ford, David N., Sterman, John D.. "Expert Knowledge Elicitation to Improve Mental and Formal Models" (PDF). Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA - Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 18-23. Retrieved on 11.1.2009. 
  4. ^ Thagard, Paul (2001) (in czech). Úvod do kognitivní vědy:mysl a myšlení. Prague: Portál. ISBN 80-7178-445-1. 
  5. ^ Tuf, Ivan H.. "Altruismus" (in czech) (HTML). Olomouc. Retrieved on 2009-01-12. 
  6. ^ Mental models Report at

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

[edit] Researchers

Researchers who study mental models:

[edit] Software

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