Mental theories of mental representations will be compared throughout

Mental representations are used by
the mind to represent entities that belong in our external reality including
words, objects and knowledge; they are symbolic and hypothetical and are vital
to our perception of the world around us (Sternberg and Sternberg 2011).
Several different theories have been proposed on how the brain uses mental
representations for understanding the world; for example, Dual-Code Theory
(Paivio 1969) focuses on the use of two codes (pictorial and verbal) and these
codes represent information from the environment in our minds. This information
is known as mental imagery and is used to visualise objects which are not
currently in our direct view (Kosslyn & Rabin 1999 cited Sternberg and
Sternberg 2011 pg 276). This theory is different from the Propositional Theory (Pylyshyn
1973) as this theory states that our mental representations are more likely to
signify the form of a proposition, i.e. they represent the meaning underlying a
relationship between two perceptions so that our mental representations have
deeper meaning rather than being just an image. The third theory is the concept
of Mental Models (Johnson-Laird 1983) and this offers a middle ground between
Dual-Code Theory and the Propositional Theory as it states that we have a
working model for certain analogies in the real world that are neither visual
or deeper representations, this working model can be used by individuals to
comprehend and describe their experiences. These different theories of mental
representations will be compared throughout the essay by drawing on the
similarities and differences between them.  

The most notable differences
between these three theories comes from the principles of the Dual-Code Theory
and the Propositional Theory as these have completely contradictory views on
mental representations. The Dual-Code Theory which was suggested by Paivio
(1969) states we use verbal and pictorial codes to represent information that
appears in our environment; these codes sort information so that it can be used
to influence our behaviour, it can be stored or retrieved at a later time. For
pictorial codes we use mental images and these mental images are analogous to
the real-life stimuli that we see ourselves and for words we use a symbolic
code which is subjectively chosen to replace the perceptually represented
object. This is very different from the ideals of the Propositional Theory
which suggests that we do not store our mental representations as words and
images, but in fact, store them as propositions, which is the meaning
underlying a particular relationship among concepts. According to this theory
our perceptions of images and words are stored as their deep meanings and when
we wish to retrieve the information a proposition between the relationship of
two objects is retrieved. 

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Mental Models (Johnson-Laird 1983)
has both similarities and differences with each of these theories; it is
similar to the Dual- Code theory due to the fact it says we have structural
analogies of the real world so that our representations are the same as what we
see in real life. This means both theories agree that in our mind we have
similar symbols to what appear in our environment. It is also similar to the
Propositional Theory as they both agree that a person’s knowledge of the things
they are perceiving is important to how they store the mental representation;
for mental models can be incorrect (Modell et al 2000) and this demonstrates
how each person’s knowledge can affect the representation. However, the Mental
Models Theory also differs from the Dual-Code Theory as the working models can
differ person-to-person depending on the individuals’ understood concepts about
their experiences whereas dual-code theory would suggest it shouldn’t change as
mental representations are just the same as we see them in real life. Furthermore, Mental Models also differs from the
propositional theory as Mental Models still acknowledges the fact that external
stimuli are represented internally whereas Propositional Theory is completely

There are few similarities shared
between the Dual-Code Theory and the Propositional Theory, however, they both share the fact that they have
studies to support and refute them. Paivio (1969) supports his Dual-Code Theory
with a study which portrays the fact that pictorial information and verbal
information is processed differently.  In
this study participants where shown a sequence of words and then a sequence of
pictures rapidly; they were then asked to recall them sequentially or randomly.
It was found that for words the participants would recall them faster if them
recalled them in the same order given yet for words they recalled them faster
when they recalled them in any order. These results suggest two different
systems for recalling words and pictures thus supporting Dual-Code Theory.  However, this evidence did not unchallenged;
Chambers and Reisberg (1985) used figures which were ambiguous to determine
whether our mental images were in fact analogical to our perceptions of objects
in reality. When presented with the ambiguous images participants had difficulty
interpreting what the alternative image was suggesting they needed the physical
object to guess the alternative interpretation. This evidence suggests that we
don’t use mental images to represent objects in external reality and that in
fact propositional codes are used rather than analogical ones.

Evidence for the Propositional
Theory comes from Reed (1974) whereby participants in his study were unable to
determine whether component shapes (e.g Parallelograms) fitted into a whole
given figure such as the star of David suggesting they could not use mental
images. Reed (1974) took this as meaning that a propositional code was used
where they had taken the deeper meaning of the star (E.g. its relationship with
religion) rather than an analogical one. However, again, further studies have
refuted the use of a propositional code and suggested the use of Mental
Imagery. In a study, participants had to combine two separate images to form a
new image in their minds, the new image differed from the sum of the two distinct
images portraying how we can use Mental Images in our mind (Finke et al 1989).
This study also suggests that propositional codes are unlikely to override
imaginal ones when the participants are presented with an image to be

On the other hand, Dual-Code Theory
differs from both Mental Models and Propositional Theory due to the fact it has
brain scans to support the use of mental imagery making it more valid as a
cause and effect relationship is more likely to be the case; due to the fact Mental
Models and Propositional Theory focus on ideas which are hypothetical it makes
it more difficult for us to prove them making them less reliable. Evidence from
fMRI scans strongly supports the idea for mental images being used in mental
representations. Ganis et al (2004) conducted a
study whereby participants either had to imagine common objects or saw drawings
of them. The results demonstrated that both visual imagery and visual
perception used the same neural areas including the frontal gyrus in the
frontal lobe and the left angular gyrus and the supramarginal gyrus in the
parietal lobe. In these areas there was a complete overlap of brain activation
for both mental imagery and the actual perception of objects strongly
supporting the idea of the use of mental imagery in the Dual-Code Theory.
Further evidence for the brain using mental imagery comes from looking at brain
patterns during sleep. It has been found that our visual experience while we
are asleep shares the same brain activity patterns as if we were seeing stimuli
in real life again suggesting that visual codes are in fact analogous of our
actual perceptions (Horikawa et al 2013). The Propositional Theory and Mental
Models lacks this kind of evidence due to its ambiguity and therefore differs
from the isomorphic nature of Dual-Code Theory.

Comparisons between Mental Models
and Propositional theory can be observed as a result of their capability to
explain findings which cannot be explained by the Dual-Code Theory; this is
because they don’t fully focus on visual imagery as the use for mental
representations. Kerr (1983) studied patients who had been born blind and asked
them to imagine various objects. His results showed that the blind participants
were always slower then sighted participants at answering questions about the
objects. However, the blind participants showed faster reactions when having to
scan shorter distances than when scanning longer distances and when answering
questions about larger objects than smaller ones. This reflects that not all
mental representations can be in fact analogues of the objects we see therefore
suggesting another way in which our mind uses mental representations. This
could either be a deeper meaning behind mental representations whereby we use
propositions to understand knowledge in the external reality or that we use
mental models from the information we have gathered in our environment. However,
in this case the use of mental images cannot be the explanation due to the
participants being born blind.

Finally, Dual code theory differs
from Propositional Theory and mental models as it focuses on the fact that
imagery and words are processed different in the brain and are represented
differently in the mind whereas Propositional Theory and Mental Models don’t.
According to Paivio (1969) mental images correspond with the objects that they
are representing, i.e. they are the same as the physical stimulus we see.
However, our mental representations for words are represented differently as
they are represented as a symbolic code. This code is a representation of
knowledge which has been chosen arbitrarily to stand for something that is not
perceptually resembled. This is supported by a study where participants had to
answer questions about images and words of pairs of animals and objects. There
were differences in how fast the participants could answer the questions
relating to the size of the object and animals depending on whether it was
written or there was in image suggesting that the two areas are processed differently
(Paivio 1975). This is different from propositional theory and mental models as
they presume that verbal and non-verbal stimuli are represented the same in the

To conclude, it is clear from the
points discussed that there are very few similarities between dual-code theory
and propositional theory mostly because the theories focus on complete opposite
ideas. Propositional theory focuses on arbitrary propositions and idealises the
idea of perception being non-analogous whereas dual-code theory focuses on our
mental representations being analogous of our perceptions and is isomorphic.
Mental Models has similarities between both of the theories and acts as a more
interactionist approach between the two views; it is similar to Dual-Code
Theory as it acknowledges that we do have structural analogies of the real
world and yet is also similar to propositional theory as it recognises that we
do have a deeper understanding of our perceptions. There are comparisons to be
made between all three theories however, as they are all separate theories and
all have different beliefs on how we use mental representations.





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