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MENTAL CONSTRUCTION David Pearson Room T10, William Guild Building Neomentalist research provided evidence for a functional similarity between internally-generated images and externally-produced percepts.

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mental construction

David Pearson

Room T10, William Guild Building

Neomentalist research provided evidence for a functional similarity between internally-generated images and externally-produced percepts.
  • This research does not directly address the issue of the role played by imagery during creative thought.
  • To what extent can novel and creative discoveries be made purely on the basis of manipulating and inspecting mental images ?
mental paper folding
Mental Paper Folding
  • Research by Shepard and Feng (1972) as a follow-up to work on mental rotation.
Results showed linear relationship between decision time and the number of folds that would be necessary to physically assemble the cube.
Mental folding appeared to emulate the attributes of physical manipulation in real world.
  • Results also show that people can mentally assemble a 3-D cube from a 2-D pattern, and then use the image as a basis to make a decision.
mental construction of 3d objects
Mental Construction of 3D Objects
  • Cooper (1990) examined mental construction in engineering students using isometric and orthographic views of abstract 3-D objects.

Isometric and Orthographic

Projections of 3D objects



mental construction of 3d objects11
Mental Construction of 3D Objects
  • Cooper (1990) examined mental construction in engineering students using isometric and orthographic views of abstract 3-D objects.
  • Study consisted of an orthographic compatibility problem-solving task, followed by a surprise isometric view recognition task.
Results indicated a significant link between performance of both tasks.
  • Probability of correctly recognising an isometric view of an object, given that the corresponding orthographic compatibility problem had been solved correctly, was 0.90
  • If the corresponding orthographic compatibility problem had been solved incorrectly, the probability of correctly recognising the isometric view fell to 0.72
In a second experiment Cooper contrasted different presentations of isometric and orthographic views by adding an isometric problem-solving task and an orthographic recognition test.
The work of Shepard & Feng and Cooper indicates that:
  • people are capable of mentally constructing three-dimensional representations from two-dimensional displays
  • can then subsequently use these mentally constructed representation in further cognitive tasks.
the interpretation of mentally constructed images
The Interpretation of Mentally Constructed Images
  • Mental interpretation of images is an important aspect of creative thought; i.e., Kekule’s linking of his image of a snake to the structure of the benzene molecule.
  • Finke, Pinker & Farah (1989) explored this issue with a guided image transformation task
  • Participants mentally transformed alphanumeric and geometric symbols in response to verbally presented instructions. They were then asked to identify the final resulting pattern.
guided image manipulation task finke pinker farah 1989
Guided Image Manipulation Task (Finke, Pinker & Farah, 1989)
  • Imagine a capital ‘D’
  • Imagine a capital ‘J’
  • Rotate the ‘D’ to the left by 90 degrees
  • Place the ‘D’ on top of the ‘J’
  • What object might this final pattern represent?
Participants correctly carried out transformations on 59% of trials. Out of these trials they correctly identified the emergent symbol 58% of the time.
  • With partial transformations (20% of trials), emergent symbol was identified 13% of the time.
  • With incorrect transformations (19% of trials), the emergent pattern was never correctly identified.
  • Results suggest that it is only by transforming the presented symbols in the correct way that the emergent pattern can be recognised.
Critics argue that the emergent pattern can be guessed purely on the basis of the presented symbols alone (Chambers & Reisberg, 1985).
  • In a second experiment Finke et al. used stimuli in which the emergent patterns only became apparent after the final transformation had been carried through
  • Participants were instructed to guess at each stage what they thought the emergent pattern could be.
Imagine a capital ‘H’
  • Imagine a second capital ‘H’
  • Rotate the second ‘H’ clockwise through 90 degrees
  • Superimpose the second’H’ on top of the first
  • What object might this final pattern resemble?
First Instruction 0% correct

Second Instruction 4% correct

Final Instruction 66% of trials correctly transformed.Out of these, 47% correctly identified

Partial transformations (19% of trials) yielded 28% correct identifications.
  • Incorrect transformations (15% of trials) yielded only a single correct identification.
  • These experiments demonstrate image reconstrual, which Finke argues is essential during the creative use of imagery.
Finke also argues that combinatory play (or ‘mental synthesis’) requires that:

(1) mental images can depict the geometry of a shape sufficiently well enough to allow for mental reinterpretation.

(2) people are able to apply shape classification procedures to the information depicted by mental images.

creative synthesis
Creative Synthesis
  • One potential weakness of the guided image transformation task is that it lacks the apparent spontaneity of imagery use in real-life reasoning.
  • Constrained nature of task may also restrict participants ability to make creative reconstruals of their images.
  • Finke attempted to rectify this with creative visual synthesis task (Finke & Slayton, 1988).
Participants are verbally presented with random groups of alphanumeric and geometric symbols, and then are given two minutes to mentally combine the symbols into any recognisable object that they can think of.


rectangle, triangle, rectangle, letter ‘V’, number ‘8’

Recognisable patterns 38% of trials

Difficult to recognise 32%

Wrong-part patterns 6%

No pattern 22%

  • In total participants produced patterns on 70% of trials, 38% of which were rated as depicting recognisable objects by independent judges.
  • Again, potential criticism is that emergent patterns could be determined from viewing the presented symbols alone, without carrying out mental synthesis.
Finke & Slayton carried out second two-stage experiment.
  • Stage 1: participants presented with groups of randomly selected symbols and given 30 seconds to try and predict what emergent patterns they could discover without actually carrying out mental synthesis.
  • Stage 2: participants completed creative synthesis task as in first experiment. Half of the symbol groups had been presented in stage 1, the other half were novel.
Symbol groups used in Stage 1

recognisable patterns 44%

Novel symbol groups recognisable patterns 39%

  • Participants no more likely to discover a recognisable pattern from a novel group of symbols than they were from a group that had been used in Stage 1.
  • Participants predicted 18% of the recognisable patterns they subsequently produced in Stage 2.

An independent observer predicted 14%.