Henri de Jongste
[Topics in Humor Research 9] 2020
► pp. 49–68
Chapter 3. Properties of mental models
In this chapter, we look at the properties of mental models and at the way in which mental models are deployed. Mental models are subjective, dynamic and hypothetical, and they can be located in situational contexts that are different from the here and now, including imaginary worlds. People can also change their perspective, and zoom in and zoom out of a situation to achieve optimal understanding or co-ordination with others. An important distinction is made between private mental models and public mental models. People must construct accurate private mental models of a situation for themselves. They need such models to understand what is happening and how they might be affected. In interaction with others, people cannot reveal all the private thoughts, feelings and desires of their private mental models. Social constraints lead to a need to convert private mental models into public ones that serve people’s social and material interests. The way people alter their private mental models when they make them public depends on their strategic or a priori intent.
When making sense of the role performances displayed in a situation, people observe the agents’ discursive and non-discursive behaviour in the situational context. Discourse enables people to exchange and co-ordinate their public mental models. Simultaneously, background knowledge and empathy make it possible to re-construct others’ private mental models, and to compare them with the public version. The two types of model may overlap, when people are honest and sincere, but they may also diverge. A detected divergence between public mental models and private mental models points to the agent’s a priori intent. Such intent may be aimed at facework, but it can also be grounded in manipulative intent or humorous intent.