“He that has an ill name is half-hanged”? Role of verbalization in unfolding of imagery representations of concrete and abstract concepts

Researchers from the Laboratory of Behavioural Neurodynamics at St Petersburg University have studied how people understand the main ideas of words.

The study is focused on one of the central issues of psychology of thinking and reasoning – the mechanism of verbal-imagery conversion underlying the distinction between essential and non-essential features of objects. It also describes the role of verbalisation in unfolding of mental images of concrete and abstract concepts.
The following hypotheses were experimentally tested: 1) quality of verbal definition of a concept correlates positively with the quality of its mental image; 2) prior formulation of verbal definition of a concept improves the quality of its mental image; 3) numbers of essential features included into both verbal and imagery representations differ between concrete and abstract concepts; 4) numbers of essential features included into representations of both concrete and abstract concepts depend on the type of preceding mental activity (verbalisation or depicting); 5) numbers of essential features included into both pictorial and verbal representations correlate with psychometric intelligence.

The results showed that quality of imagery representations of concepts correlated positively with the quality of their verbal definitions; however, none of these variables was related to psychometric intelligence. Even though the second hypothesis of the study was not confirmed, verbalisation was found to lead to representation of a larger number of essential features of concepts compared to depicting. In addition, mental representations of abstract concepts appeared to include more essential features than those of concrete concepts. We interpret these findings as the evidence for integral mechanism of conceptual processing that contributes to the coordination of verbal and imagery processes. They might also highlight the lack of imagery skills in young adults due to ‘total visualisation’ of everyday cognitive and educational practices.

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