The Image In Cognitive Psychology

In the psychology of perception, the development of psychological thought proceeded from the study of individual sensations to the understanding of perception as an integral process. Subsequently, the connection between perception and thinking was discovered to a great extent. A natural question of what comes first – perception or thinking – arose. The search for an answer to this question has given rise to a variety of approaches to the problem of perception in cognitive psychology.

In psychological science, an important role began to be assigned to the subject – the person who initiates and directs the process of perception. The concept of an image appeared, which, on the one hand, combines important characteristics of perception, on the other hand, is assembled by the subject (Rowland, 2019). It is the subject that determines what is included in this image and what is not. The image has become an analog of the perceived object, most fully reflecting the process of perception itself, in order to distinguish the object of perception itself from how it is perceived by the subject.

When constructing an image, the modalities associated with the sense organs, which have their own limitations and specificity, turned out to be important. It has been proven that modalities determine the content and characteristics of the image (Forrester, 2000). As a result, a world of images began to form, in which the image had three main properties. It was associated with cognition, endowed with modal specificity, and was stable.

However, the problem of the activity of mental reflection leads to the need to recognize the selectivity of any act of perception. Since such selectivity exists, then, consequently, there is also a carrier of this activity. At the same time, the carrier of activity (in this case, a person) is an integral mental reality. The second characteristic of the mind is the presence of an object. The environment is always reflected, which serves as the substrate from which this or that image of the object or objects of perception is created (Forrester, 2000). Meanwhile, the image is based on the data of past experience and is expressed in representation. The idea can be formed about the environment itself. In any case, the mental image is a secondary formation in relation to the object and is determined by the subject. In turn, every mental act is a part of reality and its reflection; that is, the object and its reflection are united in the subject through its psyche.

The theory postulates that the psyche reflects reality at different levels of mental organization. Each level of reflection corresponds to a specific image that performs some functions in the mental organization of a living being with a psyche. The primary image is sensual, that is, it arises directly when the sense organs of a person come into contact with the objective world (Rowland, 2019). However, the objective world in which humans and animals live is assessed by them as four-dimensional. This includes three-dimensional space (right-left, forward-backward, up-down) and time, allowing movement to be measured.

Here it is necessary to use the concept of the image of the world (the image of reality) as a methodological setting that prescribes the study of the cognitive processes of an individual in the context of their subjective picture of the world. The latter develops in them during the development of the cognitive activity. The subjective picture of the human world contains the multidimensionality of the image of the world (Rowland, 2019). Now the problem of perception is considered as the problem of building in the mind of an individual a multidimensional image of the world, an image of reality.

Therefore, a person builds the image of the world, but not the world itself. This image is scooped out from objective reality; the process of perception is the means of this scooping out, and its result is the image of the objective world. The image of the world in a person acquires the fifth dimension. There is a transition through sensibility beyond the boundaries of sensibility, through sensory modalities to the amodal world. The “image of the world” or the subjective picture of the world has distinctive properties. It goes beyond the limits of knowledge in the traditional sense, becomes amodal, and is a dynamic formation, the construction of which depends on the subject of activity.

The statement proved that the content discovered by a person in sensory perception has the form of an amodal scheme of the objective world. The process of meaning-making is not only a set or an ordered system of human knowledge about the world, about oneself, and about other people, which refracts any external influence through itself (Loos, 2002). It is also a system of expectations that generate object hypotheses on the basis of which structuring occurs and the identification of individual sensory impressions occurs. If the hypothesis is not confirmed, then the idea of ​​the world is modified, refined, and enriched with new connections between objects. The subject interacts with the outside world through activity. At the same time, the image of the world precedes activity, acting as its active principle. The former initiates and directs the latter, and it, in turn, has the opposite effect, enriching and changing it.

Observing an object as a phenomenon and highlighting its essence, we move to its ever-new “surfaces”, revealing them one by one. The key ones are the general (background) structural foundations of this movement, which operate at any of its levels but are not reduced to them, differing functionally. The image of the world reflects those specific historical – environmental, social, and cultural – symbols and forms within which all human mental activity unfolds (Loos, 2002). Constituting the necessary basis, the condition of activity and the representation of the world by the subject is implied. Therefore, it may not be distinguished (or even noticed) by the individual specifically.

It can be argued that each person is endowed with the ability to construct their own reality. This point of view is developed and recognized in social psychology and sociology – in a culture where the fundamental setting of the individual is the focus on individualism as the ultimate value of human development. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to take into account the context, and in this case, the problem of the influence of society on a person is posed. Here, society is seen as an objective and subjective reality. However, the right to create (construct) one’s own picture of the world still remains with a person (Loos, 2002). The image of reality helps a person in their daily life is expressed through their behavior. Another option for implementing the idea of ​​the context in the formation of an image is to identify social groups whose image of the world has similar features. For example, when considering professional groups, it is appropriate to identify the general picture of the world in people of different professions or to highlight the image of the professions themselves.

In this regard, Lacan’s approach toward subjectivity is worth mentioning. The three intrapsychic regions of symbolic-real-imaginary make up the various degrees of psychic manifestations in the Lacanian arena (Loos, 2002). They help to place subjectivity in relation to a framework of perceiving and a conversation with the outside world. As common participants in both psychoanalysis and mediatic discussions, perceptions, subject creation, language, and imagery, theories of media are infused with allusions to the mentioned Lacanian categories and further interest in their interactions. Efforts to theorize media in aspects of the complex and shaky line separating the inner and the outer, discussions of language, image, etc., frequently start with Lacan’s process of the infantile mirror and go on to further link the impacts of environmental stimuli like media with the perpetuation of subjectivity.

In the psychology of social cognition, the problem of the image is considered in the context of expanding the range of social objects as elements of the social world. This approach allows one to change the starting point all the time, enriching knowledge about a person and about the world. There is also a complication in understanding the world and its versatility (Forrester, 2000). For example, the existence of many images in the same person leads to the need to introduce the term multiple identities. The transition from the analysis of scientific cognition to everyday cognition leads to the identification and analysis of the mechanisms of social cognition.

In modern psychology of the image, it is argued that the world is filled with images: both external and internal. For example, Forrester (2000) says that images are created by a person and affect a person when they are created by him or other people and their (image) meanings have different implications. The same thing means different things to different people and depends on the context. So, in psychology, the very concept of an image is ambiguous and difficult to understand. Meanwhile, the surrounding reality becomes inseparable from images in which fantasy becomes more real than reality, and the image is more significant than the original source.

Forrester proposes to separate the two meanings of the concept of the image, proposing to introduce the dichotomy external – internal (image). In the first sense, an image is understood as a representation (for example, of a real object) that arises through memory and imagination (Forrester, 2000). The result of the latter is a mental image or impression – an internal image. In the second sense, the image is associated with an idea or representation created in the public mind by an individual, social institution, or product. This is the image that is created by the media – an external image or a public one.

The internal image can be considered both static and dynamic. In the first case, there is the representation of an object or event. In the second one, Forrester (2000) talks about the processes of recreating an image or imagination, which can be realized to varying degrees by a person. When analyzing a public image, we have in mind the processes of meaning external images (the use of signs, symbols, emblems, and direct images). Signs get their meaning not because they are “real” in the same way as words but because they are part of a system of relations between them.

Forrester proposes to separate the image of perception and the image of the concept as having different properties and mechanisms. He believes that the image of perception is always formed from the outside, and the image of a concept is an internal formation (Forrester, 2000). The following idea deserves special attention in this context. He connects the image with the ability to express the internal by external means; that is, the external and internal images are connected in it together. He suggests using photography as such a medium. Photography allows one to fix attention on single things, introduces a new view of the world, and contributes to the formation of new ideas.

In this vein, the artistic image (like a photograph) is the unity of sensual, material, and semantic aspects. First of all, in order to be significant, it must reflect the general in the individual, the individual, reflect the intention, the idea in the image, and be communicative, i.e., be designed for a wide audience. The artistic image is the unity of the emotional and the rational, the subjective and the objective. Subjectivity lies in the fact that its aesthetic assessment is the assessment of the author and the viewer. Through the artistic image, their “dialogue” is carried out. Its central content and result is a generally significant aesthetic assessment.

Thus, the image in psychology combines the metaphors of the external and internal when the external influences the internal and vice versa. Moreover, the external – understood in the broadest context as an image of the world – forms the internal. In addition, to date, in the psychology of the image, methodological tools have been developed for studying the image. Such a state of affairs makes it possible to determine how the human consciousness functions and how it is expressed.


Forrester, M. (2000). Psychology of Image. Routledge.

Loos, A. (2002). Symbolic, real, imaginary. The University of Chicago.

Rowland, S. (2019). C. G. Jung in the humanities: Taking the soul’s path. Routledge.