Understanding Mental Models
Susan E. Carey, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, has one of the most concise definitions of mental models, explaining that they “represent a person’s thought process for how something works.” She continues by noting that “mental models are based on incomplete facts, past experiences, and even intuitive perceptions. They help shape actions and behavior, influence what people pay attention to in complicated situations, and define how people approach and solve problems.” (Cognitive Science and Science Education, 1986)
In short, mental models are our preconceived notions of how things should work based on our past experiences and perceptions of our environment. While our mental models may not always be right, they do dictate our actions in new situations and determine our responses to external stimuli. While websites cannot easily change the mental models of their target audiences, they can certainly use them to their advantage.