Intro To Mental Models


  1. Designing for Mental Models
  2. The Power of Mental Models and How to Build Them
  3. Mental Models: The Ultimate Guide

What are they?

Mental models refer to the internal representations people form about the way things work in the external world. According to this theory, we rely on mental models to understand and interact with various systems of the world. This means we have thousands of mental models for everything from how to use a mobile phone to how to go through the security line at an airport or use an eLearning course.

Constructing Mental Models

How do psychologists think that we construct mental models? Most likely, mental models form from:

  1. Direct interaction with a situation you’ve encountered
  2. Through observation of how something works; or
  3. Through indirect experience, such as reading about a system or device, making inferences or hearing what others say about it.

Therefore, mental models can be based on beliefs as well as experiences.

Once constructed, a mental model is retrieved from memory and transferred to a new situation through analogical thinking. Analogies are mappings from one mental representation to another (Halford, 2014). When encountering a problem, a mental model will influence what a person pays attention to and the actions and strategies that a person takes to solve a problem.

"You can't really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang 'em back. If the facts don't hang together on a latticework of theory, you don't have them in usable form." -- Charlie Munger