Capacity Limits in Mechanical Reasoning


Mary Hegarty

University of California, Santa Barbara


Abstract. This paper examines capacity limits in mental animation of static diagrams of mechanical systems and interprets these limits within current theories of working memory. I review empirical studies of mental animation that examined (1) the relation of spatial ability to mental animation (2) the effects of working memory loads on mental animation, (3) use of external memory in mental animation and (4) strategies for task decomposition that enable complex mental animation problems to be accomplished within the limited capacity of working memory. The effects of capacity limits on mental animation are explored by implementing a simple production system model of mental animation in the 3CAPS production system architecture, limiting the working memory resources available to the model, and implementing strategies for managing scarce working memory resources. It is proposed that mental animation involves the visual-spatial and executive components of working memory and that individual differences in mental animation reflect the operation of these working memory components.



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