The representation of spatial mental models in long-term memory

Baguley, Thomas Simon (1994). The representation of spatial mental models in long-term memory. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is concerned with how people understand and remember spatial information derived from verbal descriptions. The thesis distinguishes between three different ways of representing spatial information in working memory. The first way is to represent the surface form of the source from which the spatial information is derived (the language of a description). The second is to represent the structure of the situation derived from that source (a spatial mental model). The third is to represent the perceptual characteristics of the situation from a particular perspective (a visual image). Considerable evidence exists that people construct and manipulate spatial mental models in working memory. The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the claim that mental models are represented in long-term memory. An outline of the spatial mental modeling processes required to understand a simple spatial description is proposed. It is proposed that spatial mental modeling is comprised of three processing stages. Firstly, comprehension processes are required to access the linguistic meaning of information presented in spatial description. Secondly, construction processes are required to build up a representation of the spatial structure of the situation derived from the language of the description. Thirdly, consultation processes are required to monitor construction and to access information from the spatial mental model. Nine experiments are reported which investigate evidence for and against the view that people remember the construction and consultation of a spatial mental model. In the final chapter this evidence is reviewed and a 'sketch' of a processing theory of memory for spatial descriptions is proposed. It is argued that memory for a spatial mental model is a product of the interaction between construction and consultation processes over a period of time rather than a simple 'copy' of a completed working memory spatial mental model.

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