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Mental models refer to the thought process and thought patterns that an individual has regarding his/her perception of self, of others, of the environment, and any well as all the things and events in the outside world. It is a representation of thought process of a person that how his/her mind perceives the self and image of others. Mental model defines the format in which a person associates, relates, and develops perception of others. Not only the individual’s self image depends on the perception developed through this mental model, the perception he/she has regarding others is also largely dependent on this mental model. Mental models are “relatively persistent knowledge structures for representing elements and the relationship between them. They serve as simplified representations of knowledge and, as such, as a means for simplifying cognition in conditions of incomplete information” (Waldeck, 2007; P. 14). Having defined the mental models, we now move on to describe the rationale for this paper.
Senge (2000) defined mental models as deeply ingrained images and assumptions that we hold in our minds based on which we develop perception regarding self, others, and environment around us. The aforementioned definitions of mental models indicate that since our perception regarding others is dependent on our own metal models, it is essential that these models are based on logically valid reasons and arguments rather than mere assumptions, or assumptions that may only be partially true. The relationship with others and environment around us is dependent on the true representation of images and assumptions that we hold, thus this paper aims to explore the potential advantages and limitations of mental models while developing perception regarding strangers while meeting them for the first time. The mental models held individually impact the development of perception regarding others on an institutional level when working in teams. Thus, it is essential to uncover how these mental models may limit or assist an individual as well as an organization in developing sound perception regarding others.
An important function of mental models is to develop causal relationships between different events. A mental model retains some memory from past experiences and then processes this information when similar and near similar events takes place in future. While the mind relies on memory, stored is same model, the person then makes use of intuition and educated or uneducated guesses based on the previous experience to develop the perception about events or persons. Although retaining memory for use in future events is good, the problem with intuition is that it is not grounded in rational thought process, or a conscious linking up of events and environment through logical reasoning. The assumptions and images we already hold significantly impact the perception that we develop regarding people we meet for the first time. For instance, Senge (2000) argued that if a person is dressed elegantly, we hold the assumption the mind that he/she is a country club person. On the contrary, a person dressed shabbily is perceived as being least caring about others’ perception regarding him/her.
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As described the examples quoted by Senge, we may make inferences from physical appearance of a stranger when meeting him/her for the first time. We usually associate being confused with lower self-confidence. In this case, if a stranger when meeting for the first time seems confused, we may empathize with the person by asking him/her to be relaxed and be himself. This will help the other person gain confidence and let both of us strike a mutually trustful meeting. In a collectivist culture, such as Chinese, personal remarks or direct assessments are rarely provided to the person being met for the first time. Thus, the collective mental model of a person in a ‘collectivist’ culture may assist in making the stranger feel comfortable in an awkward situation.
Johnson-Laird (1983) argued that mental models make use of ‘implicit’ inference rather than ‘explicit’ inference. This means that when relying on assumptions from our mentally preconceived notions, we make decisions and perceptions based on biased or incomplete available information. If we develop perception regarding a stranger, meeting us for the first time, based on mental model, we may only rely on preconceived notions and assumptions regarding appearance of the person, attitude, or visible capability. We may not delve deep into the details of his/her personality and environment under the influence of which the person may be. Johnson-Laird also argued that we jump to the conclusion sooner when using mental models rather than actual or unbiased information. When strangers are assessed or analyzed based on their single act of rudeness or any demeaning attitude, we ignore that such attitude might be under influence of any momentary incident. We permanently hold the perception of that person based on our mental image. This may limit our interaction as well as relationship building with the person in question.
The perception that we hold regarding our environment may be that it is unsafe to strike conversation with total stranger and this may limit any chances of interaction with the stranger. On the other hand, we may have a tendency, rooted in our mental model that it is least harmful to befriend with strangers. This may actually place us in an awkward situation if the stranger happens to be a criminal deliberately wanting to get assistance for accomplishment of any wrongful task. Instances such as these provide us with the rationale to question our mental models regarding situations and persons in general and base our reactions on rational grounds rather than mere assumptions. If knowledge regarding the outer world is flawed, we may not be able to draw logical and valid conclusions just on the basis of questionable mental representations that we hold regarding people. The analysis supports the notion that every now and then we should be open to learning, if not all the times, in order to develop a perception of outer world based on true representations.
Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1983). Mental models: Towards a cognitive science of language, inference, and consciousness (Vol. 6). Harvard University Press.
Porter, M. E. (2000). Attitudes, values, beliefs, and the microeconomics of prosperity. Culture matters: How values shape human progress, 14-28.
Senge, P. (2000). Give me a lever long enough… and single-handed I can move the world (pp. 13-25). Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Waldeck, T.Z. (2007). The Effect of Team Composition on Strategic Sense making. Springer.