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Types of Model

 

Explanations > Models > Types of Model

What | Who | How | Why | So what?

 

What are models for? How can we differentiate one type from another? A simple method is to consider how they help us by asking basic questions about what, who, how and why.

What

All nouns are effectively models. They are 'things' about which we hold information about what they are. This helps the first step of interacting with the world by recognizing things.

Physical models

We create physical models of the world around us, such as of chairs and cats. We see a chair and know how to sit on it. We see a small furry creature and know that it is mostly safe and nice to stroke.

Physical models are flexible enough to cope with variations, so we recognize all types of chairs and cats. We even recognize things from all viewpoints and when they are distorted. In this way we recognize half-hidden faces.

Concept models

We also have models for non-physical 'objects'. For example 'happiness' includes pictures of smiling people, tingly feelings and a lack of sadness (opposites are always good to help define things).

Who

Models also help us to make sense of other people, who simplify and seek to categorize us into 'little boxes' within seconds of meeting us.

Personality models

We all have models human personality whereby we classify others as boffins, bozos and more. These then allow us to know where to place ourselves relative to them in the all-important hierarchy of status and otherwise know how to interact with them.

There are also formal models of personality such as the Big Five and DISC that we use to help understand ourselves and work colleagues.

Stereotypes

Personality models also leak into stereotypes, whereby we create often unkind classifications, even classifying people based on their nationality or the shade of their skin.

How

Importantly, models tell us what to do. They give us instruction on what we should or must do in order for things to work and for others to agree with us.

How-to procedures

Procedural memory is a particular type of encoding that our brain uses to help us easily learn how to repeat actions, from tying our shoelaces to completing puzzles. This works well for us, even after we start forgetting who other people are.

The how-do model typically is a sequence of instruction. First do this, then do that, and so on. It may well be a single-track yellow-brick road that suffers no deviation. It may also cope with multiple variations.

Scripts

Mental scripts are also how-to instructions, although these are often focused on social situations and, like the script of a theatrical play, focus particularly on what you (and others) should say.

Science models

We also have models that are based on the laws of science and mathematics. If an apple detaches itself from a tree, for example, our experience of gravity lets us predict what will happen to it. If we see water running from a tap, we are able to guess how long it will take to fill a bowl.

When

Anther form of model, which may also be embedded with other models, is one which pays attention to time.

Typical time models are based around how long individual actions take. Experience project managers have a history of discovering how long particular activities take to complete. This is then used in creating a project plan, which is effectively a model of the entire project.

Where

Location and space is yet another domain in which we create models. We live in a three-dimensional world and model this space in order to navigate within it.

Spatial models

Spatial models map where things are in three dimensional space. As we walk across a room we do not have to check carefully where we are going, as our model of the room and furniture lets us neatly avoid everything.

We model space we cannot, see. When something disappears behind a wall, we effectively put on 'X-Ray spectacles' as we imagine where it. For example if a ball is thrown behind the wall we follow its imagined trajectory to guess where it lands.

Geographic models

We also model a larger geography. Even if we have not been around the world, we have an internal picture of the world. We can imagine travel to countries where we have never been. We can think about what it would be like at the top of the tallest mountain or the deepest canyon. We can think of deserts and jungle, tundra and plains. And when we go there, although the reality may be breathtaking, we are not shocked.

Why

A very important class of model that we use as humans is to understand cause. If we know why things happen then we can both predict and explain, which are important needs for survival and social acceptance.

Why things happen

As children grow, they do experiments with their food, their toys and with their environment. In doing so, they discover connections between their actions and the world around them. In short, they discover cause and effect.

Over time, both by direct experiment and by listening to others we develop a huge repertoire of models to explain why things happen as they do.

Why people do what they do

A particular case of 'why things happen' is about why people do what they do. If we can understand others then we can if they are a threat or friendly. We know how to interact with them without causing embarrassment.

A way we do this is by creating a 'Theory of Mind', which is effectively a model of how they think. In this way we believe we can read minds, even though this turns out to be particularly difficult.

So what?

Understand your own models and recognize them as simplified lenses on the world. Be open to other points of view.

Understand the models of others and speak to these when you are seeking to persuade. To change their models, either shock them with evidence that disproves their entire model or carefully chip away, reframing one bit at a time.

See also

Theory of Mind, Memory

 

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