Group mental model transfer

Liwana Sue Bringelson, Purdue University


This research begins to establish a bridge between the area of individual mental models to social units such as work groups. Group mental model transfer is the process which occurs, when people modify their understandings of a system based on interactions with others. Information is shared about each member's understanding of the system, and these dynamic models are changed by the exposure to others' understandings. A two-phase research approach was taken to gain insight on how group members' mental models affect their interaction and the group process and outcome. Phase I consisted of two experiments with dyadic groups working on materials from a specific domain. Experiment one presented analogies as a manner of understanding simple electrical systems; experiment two consisted of procedural and declarative knowledge about spatial relationships within an abstract domain. Subjects were presented with information designed to develop their mental model of the experimental domain, then asked to cooperate in group problem solving. Experimentation in Phase II investigated the effects of two independent variables. Groups of five subjects, whose task was to develop a human-computer interface, were observed either in a traditional group or using an electronic brainstorming tool, via a set of networked workstations. Additionally, the number of mental models presented to the group, either one (as presented by the subjects) or two (with the subjects' model plus one introduced by the experimenter) were manipulated. This 2 x 2 experimental design investigated the effects and interactions of multiple mental models and the way in which a group interacts. Results indicate that identifying and sharing different mental models within a group is a key activity, to allow multiple viewpoints to have adequate representation and contribution to the group solution. Both research phases showed results that indicate multiple mental models do have an effect on how and what happens in a group, as well as starting to suggest manners in which sharing mental models may be made more efficient. Knowledge about how people share their understandings of systems when they work in groups will continue to push the areas of mental model research, as well as the areas of group interaction, teamwork training and groupware.




Eberts, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Industrial engineering|Social psychology|Business community

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