A rat in the sewer: How mental imagery interacts with object recognition
The role of mental imagery has been puzzling researchers for more than two millennia. Both positive and negative effects of mental imagery on information processing have been discussed. The aim of this work was to examine how mental imagery affects object recognition and associative learning. Based on different perceptual and cognitive accounts we tested our imagery-induced interaction hypothesis in a series of two experiments. According to that, mental imagery could lead to (1) a superior performance in object recognition and associative learning if these objects are imagery-congruent (semantically) and to (2) an inferior performance if these objects are imagery-incongruent. In the first experiment, we used a static environment and tested associative learning. In the second experiment, subjects encoded object information in a dynamic environment by means of a virtual sewer system. Our results demonstrate that subjects who received a role adoption task (by means of guided mental imagery) performed better when imagery-congruent objects were used and worse when imagery-incongruent objects were used. We finally discuss our findings also with respect to alternative accounts and plead for a multi-methodological approach for future research in order to solve this issue.