Psychology of the Image

Psychology of the Image

Psychology of the Image

Psychology of the Image


Drawing together the work of three main perspectives of the role of the image in contemporary culture, this text enables the reader to understand the distinct ways different disciplines contribute to this emerging area of study.


In contemporary culture images play a significant role in influencing our understanding of ourselves, those around us, and the environment we live in. Our everyday experiences ranging from the banal to the enriching are replete with images. Before leaving our homes in the morning we find ourselves checking to see whether we look right (i.e. displaying a good or at least an appropriate ‘self-image’). We decorate our houses with pictures, photographs and other images both for the pleasure they bring us and for what they ‘say’ about our lifestyle. When we hear a piece of music that captures our attention, we might talk of an image coming into our minds, and often when we are buying something we suspect that the decisions we make have been influenced by the images we have seen promoting that product. Hardly a day goes by without politicians, theologians and social commentators warning us of the dangers of image ‘over-exposure’, while all the time making sure their own images are presented in line with the appropriate conventions.

On the one hand we experience a considerable range of diverse images from the external world, and on the other our mental life is saturated with, and constituted by, internal images, impressions, ideas and associated representations. Richard Kearney (1988) suggests that we are seduced by the implicit ideologies of the latest media cult or craze, and seem to have entered an age where reality is inseparable from the image, and where

our understanding of the world is preconditioned by the electronically reproducible media of television, cinema, video and radio…where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than the original.

(Kearney 1988:252)

What we mean by understanding is itself conceived of as mental representation, one of a number of ‘image related’ metaphors of conceptual knowledge. When psychologists talk of cognitive representations and mental imagery they implicitly invoke constructs of the mental image, occasionally ‘picture-like’ and often presupposed on the image or model of the proposition (image

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