Fachbereich Psychologie

Modal and amodal cognition: Functions and interactions (FOR 2718)

The question of how the human mind represents the internal and external world plays a crucial  role in theories of human cognition. Central to this question is the distinction between modal vs. amodal representations. Modal representations are experiential in nature and are therefore rather concrete. The structure of these representations preserves structural aspects of how we experience the world. Amodal representations in contrast resemble an abstract description of the state of affairs they represent. Their structure is different from the structure of their referents

It has often been assumed that one or the other of these two types of representations underlies cognitive processing in a certain domain of cognition. For instance, in research on thinking, memory, and language processing, the traditional assumption is that properties, objects, situations, and events are captured by means of amodal representations. These representations typically abstract from the detailed aspects of the specific state of affairs that is being represented. For instance, the meaning representation of a word such as “dog” will include symbols for typical features of dogs whereas in research on perception, it is often assumed that the relevant representations are modal in nature. When perceiving, for instance, a dog, it is assumed that humans create a rather specific representation that preserves many properties of this dog. 

The present research group proceeds from the notion that both representations play a major role in all cognitive domains. Specifically, we believe that a comprehensive theory of cognition requires a solid understanding of the different representations and their functional roles for cognition. Our research unit aims at an overarching perspective that brings together the fragmented research approaches from different subdisciplines within psychology. We will unravel the functional roles of modal and amodal representations for cognition and will investigate their interactions in different subfields of cognition (e.g., perception, learning, language, thinking, action). We will also investigate how these different representations develop (for one possibility see here), and whether particular psychological disorders are associated with dysfunctions in one of these representations.