Visual Mental Imagery: A Key Representational Format

Visual Mental Imagery: A Key Representational Format

Lihui Wang, Michael J. Lawson
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7495-0.ch003
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Opinions diverge on the nature of visual mental imagery as a form of representation. Researchers adopting the pictorial position propose that visual mental imagery is concrete and pictorial in nature. Researchers adopting the propositional position believe that visual mental imagery is abstract and verbal in nature and deny images as an original form of information presentation. This chapter reviews the opposing theoretical stances and proposes that an acceptable resolution of the debate could be a dual representation position that takes visual mental imagery as a key representational format, suggesting complementary and integrating roles for verbal and pictorial representations in accounting for certain cognitive phenomena.
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Imagine that you are walking on the beach on a very windy day. Or cast your mind back to the kitchen in the house where you grew up as a child. Or think of that black dog in the film you saw last week.

It’s easy to do all this imagining because we have the capacity to use mental imagery. Much of the time we initiate this image processing automatically even though we may subsequently be very aware of the features of the face of the character in a book we are reading or of the beach or the dog. Visual mental imagery, the form of mental imagery that has been the subject of most research, is sometimes referred to as “visualising” or “seeing in the mind’s eye” when a physical stimulus is not present. It is also believed to play an important role in much of our thinking. Long before the current time, visual mental imagery was regarded as playing a crucial role in all thought processes and providing the semantic grounding for language (Thomas, 2010). Although visual mental imagery, (and closely related spatial imagery), has been the subject of much research, it has also been the subject of strong theoretical debate: debate that has been focused on its status as a form of representation. In this paper we review key positions in the imagery debate in order to advance the theoretical position of imagery as a form of information representation, and the dual representation position as a resolution of conflicting theoretical positions taken on imagery. Towards the end of the paper we point to the potential value for student achievement of explicit training in use of good quality visual mental imagery.

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