Mental Models and Sense-Making

I came across the Alan Dix paper about two years back and it totally blew my mind! This was exactly what a couple of us were discussing on one of the cog psych forums. We were trying to describe how Ni works. One of the things that distinguishes the INTJ mentality is the very clear structure that we build of what we know. (Which is why we’re also very aware of what we don’t know.)

Especially as an INTJ, I get what Dix says about mental models. I’m a fairly visual person, so let me explain with a picture: I think of my world view as a kind of metallic framework into which i keep slotting information from my observations about the world all the time. Every time I peg in information, it tells me two things:

  1. That I can make sense of that particular tidbit in a larger context
  2. That my world view is robust because it can accommodate that piece of information along with all the other stuff it has.

When I was younger and not as liberal-minded as I am now, my structure was limited and rigid: it couldn’t accommodate as much stuff because “contradictions” or misfit pieces would float outside the structure messily. so I’d have to redesign the basics of my structure again and again (i.e. rethink my world view repeatedly). Now as I grow older, i find that at most I’m redesigning only tiny parts of the structure, not the whole thing.

Guess what? The Dix paper says pretty much same thing (but from slightly better authority, lol). These are the findings of Dix et all (2004)…

The mental models that people have, have the following characteristics:

  1. They are often partial
  2. They are unstable and subject to change
  3. They can be internally inconsistent
  4. They are often not scientific and may be based on bias or superstition than evidence or facts
  5. They are often based on incorrect interpretation of the evidence

So there are some things that you can immediately conclude from such awesome findings.

  1. Dix and company are seriously cynical about the intelligence of their fellow beings – and this is now scientifically justified 😀
  2. This is a fabulous theoretical rationale for why liberal mindedness makes a person more intelligent/ why bigots are fundamentally fools. How kewl is that!

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