Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsIt seems that there are no cut and dried answers to the questions that we have raised over just how like pictures mental images are. What seems absolutely clear cut though is that the information conveyed by pictures can be stored in ways that are very unlike photographs. Just think about it - there really are no little pictures inside your smart phone. But for those who readily report having mental images the vivid impression is of viewing an internal picture. So what else might be going on. Well a different view is that pictorial information is captured in a language-like form such that the language provides a description of the spatial relations between the key parts of the thing in the picture.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 secondsSo the face of the Mona Lisa will be captured in a set of descriptive statements such as Nose is centrally above the mouth Eye to the left of the top of the nose Eye to the right of the top of the nose And so on Remember we initially drew a distinction between language-like and picture-like representations. Well the radical alternative to the pictures in the head idea is that visual information is actually captured in a language-like format. And this conclusion is going to be very hard for some to swallow. My image of my cat sat on my mat is very much like a picture to me.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 secondsThis dilemma allows us to make a rather basic point about the science of psychology – we really don’t want our science to based primarily on introspection that is subjective reports of our inner lives. We need to be able to generate predictions that can be tested in experiments. And aligned to this we need to think very carefully about whether our experiments do really provide robust tests for our ideas.

Description or depiction? Part 1

So, if we have concerns over the picture-like nature of our mental images, what else might be going on? Here Rob opens up the possibility that some sort of language-like system might be key.

Given that, for some, the impression is very much like viewing an internal picture, here we broach the possibility that, fundamentally, knowledge is stored in a language-like format – fundamentally it is description rather than depiction that is key.

To those highly adept visual thinkers, this may come across as being highly implausible. But given that some never reported ‘consulting mental images’ - remember aphantasics - we should be cautious in claiming that mental imagery plays a necessary role in reasoning! What do you think?

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Introduction to Cognitive Psychology: An Experimental Science

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