What Is Representation in Cognitive Psychology?


Vincent White

Representation is a fundamental concept in cognitive psychology that refers to the way that information is stored and processed in the brain. In simple terms, it is the mental images, concepts, or symbols that we use to represent the world around us. In this article, we will explore the concept of representation in more detail and look at some of the ways it is studied in cognitive psychology.

What Is Representation?

Representation can be defined as the process by which information about an object, concept, or event is stored in memory and can subsequently be retrieved and used to make decisions or solve problems. This can take many forms, ranging from mental images to abstract symbols or concepts.

Types of Representation

There are several different types of representation that are studied in cognitive psychology:

  • Sensory Representations: Sensory representations are mental images that are based on our perceptions of the world around us. For example, when you close your eyes and imagine what a tree looks like, you are using a sensory representation.
  • Mental Models: Mental models are conceptual representations that allow us to reason about complex systems or processes.

    For example, when a doctor uses a mental model of the human body to diagnose an illness.

  • Symbols: Symbols are abstract representations that stand for something else. For example, words are symbols that represent ideas or objects.

How Is Representation Studied?

Representation is studied in cognitive psychology using a variety of methods:

  • Behavioral Studies: Behavioral studies involve observing how people perform tasks that require them to use representations. For example, researchers might ask participants to solve a problem using a mental model and then measure their performance.
  • Neuroimaging: Neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI and PET scans can be used to study the neural basis of representation in the brain.
  • Computational Modeling: Computational modeling involves creating computer simulations of cognitive processes to better understand how representations are used in the brain.

Why Is Representation Important?

Representation is a fundamental concept in cognitive psychology because it underlies many of the cognitive processes that we use in our everyday lives. For example, we use representations to recognize objects, communicate with others, and solve problems. By understanding how representation works in the brain, researchers can develop better models of cognition and more effective treatments for cognitive disorders.


Representation is a complex and multifaceted concept that plays a fundamental role in cognition. By studying representation, researchers can gain insights into how the brain processes information and how we make sense of the world around us. Whether you are interested in neuroscience, psychology, or artificial intelligence, understanding representation is essential for understanding how the mind works.