Memory & Cognition

, Volume 35, Issue 8, pp 2075-2087

First online:

Preferred mental models in reasoning about spatial relations

  • Georg JahnAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Chemnitz University of Technology Email author 
  • , Markus KnauffAffiliated withGiessen University
  • , P. N. Johnson-LairdAffiliated withPrinceton University


The theory of mental models postulates that individuals infer that a spatial description is consistent only if they can construct a model in which all the assertions in the description are true. Individuals prefer a parsimonious representation, and so, when a description is consistent with more than one possible layout of entities on the left—right dimension, individuals in our culture prefer to construct models working from left to right. They also prefer to locate entities referred to in the same assertion as adjacent to one another in a model. And, if possible, they tend to chunk entities into a single unit in order to capture several possibilities in a single model. We report four experiments corroborating these predictions. The results shed light on the integration of relational assertions, and they show that participants exploit implicit constraints in building models of spatial relations.