We frequently resort to the use of vivid images, aware as we are of their explicative power: we search our minds for them to explain a concept or idea which, because of its abstract nature, may not be readily understood. We are also aware that employing an image not only results in a simplification of information but also makes the concept familiar by relating it to our listener's knowledge of everyday life. Everyday language and knowledge are particularly rich in images precisely because they merge and accomplish this transformation from concept to image.
The notion of the use of images, as Abric (1987) has recently pointed out, has a long history in the psychological literature, though in terms of a perceptual model in which the image is seen as a reflection of the outside world with a clear separation between the subject and the object. Our interpretation of the image derives from the concept of representation, and assumes a constitutive relation between subject and object. In these terms the image is not a mere reflection of the object as such, but a product of complex relations, either real or imaginary, objective or symbolic, which the subject projects into a specific object.
From a cognitive point of view a representation may be assimilated within a mental framework which Zajonc (1968) described as a form of interdependence between cognitive elements which affects motivation, attitudes, emotion and behaviour. The notion of social representation, as Abric (1987) observes, involves a much more complex process, a total reconstruction of reality in its psychological, social and ideological aspects.