Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mental representations and information processing

Mental Representations
Human minds work by representation and computation. An individual’s ability to perceive information, comprehend it and to decide and act on it depends on mental representations. A mental representation is an internal code for information which cannot be observed by others.
To know what actually a mental representation is let us consider a picture of a cuckoo.  This picture is a representation of the bird in the world outside the human mind. This picture gives much information on the bird such as it size, shape, colour of feather et cetera. But it does not give any information on its distinctive song. A photograph or an artist’s drawing is the external representation of an object.
Now, close your eyes and imagine a cuckoo. A mental picture of cuckoo appears in your mind. This is the mental representation of cuckoo. This mental representation of the cuckoo gives all the information given by the picture of the cuckoo and, in addition, it may give information about its distinctive song also, if you have heard the song in the past. Unlike the artists’ sketches or photographs the mental representations of one individual cannot be observed by another individual. They are private and are perceived only by their owners.
Not all mental representations are perceived as images. Some mental representations are unconscious and the individual is unaware of them. For example, when one drives a car many mental representations about the procedures of driving a car may come to mind and the individual operates on them unknowingly. That means the many procedures of driving a car is automatic and the individual is unaware of the steps.
Look again, in your mind’s eye, at the cuckoo. Can you hear its song? Perhaps, but you will hear the real song of a cuckoo only if you have acquired a mental representation of how a cuckoo sounds. If you confuse it with the sounds of a robin or a sparrow, that is because your mental representation is in error.
Mental representations provide the basis for all mental functioning. To perceive your environment, you must compute mental representations of the objects around you and the events that are taking place. To comprehend and learn from what you are reading now, you must mentally represent the information that is conveyed through language. All that you know about the world, and your only basis for acting on the world, is found in your mental representations.
Processing of information
Another basic concept of cognitive psychology is that human mind process information in different stages. In other words computational process of the mind takes place in stages. Let us take the example of memory task given earlier.

To remember the trigrams and the words you need to first perceive or encode them. You have to read the letter combinations first. The process of encoding of encoding becomes difficult if easy reading is not possible due to any reason such as lack of adequate light, deficit of vision etc. Next, you needed to store the encoded items in memory. The words are much easier to store than the meaningless letter combinations.  Next, the items stored needed to be retrieved from memory. This process of retrieval is called remembering. Again, words are easier to remember than the meaningless trigrams. The final stage of information processing is output. The remembered word or trigram has to be spoken or written during the output stage of information processing. So, to be able to recall WAQ , you have to compute a mental representation during encoding, store this representation as an item on the list, retrieve the representation when trying to remember and then convert the mental representation to a spoken or written word or trigram.  The steps required to form, modify and use mental representations in a mental task is called the stages of information processing.   


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