Mental Models

Mental models are representations of reality that people use to understand specific phenomena. Norman (in Gentner & Stevens, 1983) describes them as follows: "In interacting with the environment, with others, and with the artifacts of technology, people form internal, mental models of themselves and of the things with which they are interacting. These models provide predictive and explanatory power for understanding the interaction."

Mental models are consistent with theories that postulate internal representations in thinking processes (e.g., Tolman , GOMS , GPS ). Johnson-Laird (1983) proposes mental models as the basic structure of cognition: "It is now plausible to suppose that mental models play a central and unifying role in representing objects, states of affairs, sequences of events, the way the world is, and the social and psychological actions of daily life." (p397)

Holland et al. (1986) suggest that mental models are the basis for all reasoning processes: "Models are best understood as assemblages of synchronic and diachronic rules organized into default hierarchies and clustered into categories. The rules comprising the model act in accord with the principle of limited parallelism, both competing and supporting one another." (p343)

Some of the characteristics of mental models are: