Imagery and Spatial Representations

Does deductive reasoning rely on visual imagery? Behavioral studies have produced little evidence to suggest this is the case. Readers might suppose that this lack of evidence counts against the model theory. This view, however, confuses models with images. The model theory distinguishes between the two: Mental models are structural analogs of the world, whereas visual images are the perceptual correlates of certain sorts of model from a particular point of view. Indeed, many mental models are incapable of supporting visual images because they represent properties or relations that are not visualizable, such as ownership, obligation, and possibility. Recent studies have sharpened the need to distinguish between the degree to which relations evoke spatial models as opposed to visual images. The studies examined three sorts of materials, as rated by an independent panel of judges:

1. Relations that are easy to envisage spatially and easy to visualize, such as above, below, in front of, and in back of

2. Relations that are not easy to envisage spatially but are easy to visualize, such as cleaner, dirtier, fatter, and thinner

3. Control relations that are neither easy to envisage spatially nor easy to visualize, such as better, worse, smarter, and dumber

The studies examined both conditional inferences and inferences about simple relations among entities. They showed that inferences were faster with contents that were easier to envisage spatially than with the control contents, which in turn were faster than contents that were easy to visualize but difficult to envisage spatially. It seems that a relation such as "dirtier", elicits a visual image, but one that is irrelevant to the construction of a mental model that allows reasoners to make the required inference. In contrast, a relation, such as "in front of' elicits a spatial model that helps individuals to draw the inference. An fMRI study has also examined spatial reasoning. Given spatial problems, such as

The red rectangle is in front of the green rectangle. The green rectangle is in front of the blue rectangle.

Does it follow that the red rectangle is in front of the blue rectangle?

significant activation occurred in regions of parietal cortex that are known to represent and to process spatial information. Moreover, there was no reliable difference in the degree of activation between the right and the left hemispheres. Clinical studies of how brain damage affects the use of imagery in reasoning have produced mixed results, perhaps because they have not separated the two sorts of contents—spatial and non-spatial—that are both easy to visualize.

In summary, clinical and imaging studies of the brain have yet to establish how reasoners make deductions. There is evidence for separate systems mediating logical inferences with neutral content and personal inferences with a content that engages knowledge and beliefs. Future studies may determine whether separate brain mechanisms underlie the control of different deductive strategies, the use of diagrams as opposed to verbal premises, and the construction and evaluation of multiple models.

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