The mental representation of knowledge has been of perennial concern to cognitive psychologists. Studies of knowledge representation usually start with performance on some cognitive task and try to determine the kind of representation--whether it is linguistic, spatial, propositional, or whatever. A different approach is to start with the representation and see how it affects performance. The representation is literally given to participants--in the form of a chart, tree diagram, etc. The representations are varied, and hence the name alternative representations.

Research on alternative representations has shown that certain representations are better than others for certain everyday cognitive tasks, such as interpreting a bus schedule and determining which prescription medicine to take when (Day, 1988). Different kinds of representation may be more effective for persons of differing personalities (Albu, Toma, & Pitariu, 1998). This suggests that learning alternative ways of representing knowledge could be a valuable practical skill.


Albu, M., Toma, C., & Pitariu, H. (1998, November 10). Personality and computer assisted instruction (C.A.I.): Bases for developing an adaptive program [WWW document]. URL

Day, R. S. (1988). Alternative representations. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 22, 261-305.

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