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Chapter Six. Mental Representations

Eliot R. Smith and Sarah Queller

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631210344.2002.00008.x


Many of the core concepts of social psychology, including attitudes, the self-concept, stereotypes, and impressions of other persons, are mental representations. Thus, most theories in social psychology, because they deal with these concepts, implicitly or explicitly make assumptions about how mental representations are constructed, stored in memory, changed, and used to make judgments or plan actions. This chapter aims to explicate and clarify the most popular general conceptions of mental representation and their respective assumptions, which in many theories remain implicit and unelaborated. We review four types of representation: associative networks, schemas, exemplars, and distributed representations. The review focuses on types of representations rather than on “theories,” for a single theory often incorporates several types of representation for distinct purposes. For example, Wyer and Srull's (1989) well-known theory includes both associative networks and schemas. For each of the four types of representation, the chapter will first review basic assumptions regarding representation formation and use. Next, a number of key empirical effects will be described and each mechanism's ability to account for these effects will be discussed. We will discuss explicit, intentional forms of memory as well as the more implicit, unintended effects of mental representations that occur ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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