Volume 15 · Number 3 · Pages 238–250
Visual Representation in the Wild: Empirical Phenomenological Investigation of Visual-spatial Working Memory in a Naturalistic Setting

Aleš Oblak

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Context: In sciences of the mind, cognitive phenomena are typically investigated with the use of psychological tasks. These usually represent highly constrained environments that isolate and make phenomena under investigation measurable. However, it is poorly understood how psychological tasks constrain one’s cognition and, to a certain extent, construct their own object of inquiry. Problem: I address the question of how visual-spatial working memory is constrained differently in a naturalistic setting, as compared to when measured with psychological tasks. Specifically, can we observe principled and empirical support for the claim that psychological tasks to a certain extent construct the phenomena they purportedly measure? Method: I employ an empirical phenomenological approach that combines the methodological and analytical framework of constructivist grounded theory with contemporary approaches to the scientific study of experience, to gather phenomenal data on visual working memory in a naturalistic setting - a drawing task. Results: The drawing task elicits visual-spatial working memory as a type of visual-motor behavior with rare instances of mnemonic representations taking the form of language. Importantly, my empirical findings show that investigating cognitive phenomena in naturalistic settings yields constructs that are different from phenomena elicited in a laboratory setting. Implications: The findings suggest that investigating the mind solely with psychological tasks provides an incomplete picture of the phenomena under investigation. Constructivist content: I outline empirical data that points to how, under different constraints from the environment, not only do we conceptualize cognitive phenomena according to different theoretical constructs, but our cognitive system deploys different strategies to solve the task at hand. Keywords: Psychological task, visual-spatial working memory, empirical phenomenology, naturalistic task, drawing task.

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Oblak A. (2020) Visual representation in the wild: Empirical phenomenological investigation of visual-spatial working memory in a naturalistic setting. Constructivist Foundations 15(3): 238–250. https://constructivist.info/15/3/238

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