Using Finite Automata to Represent Mental Models

Maria Elena Romera
San Jose State University
August 2000


The element lacking from past Human-Computer Interaction research is a method for systematically comparing a user's mental model to the way the machine actually works. The formal language of automata was used to represent both a device and students' mental models of it. Mental models were elicited during an interview with two parts. The first part consisted of a spontaneous description. The second part consisted of structured questions used to confirm what was said in the description, and uncover any further knowledge. Student models were compared to the model of the device to find missing or incorrect information. Participants were also tested with a compound task and true-false and multiple-choice problems to see if the mental model predicted task performance. The more similar the student's model was to model of the device, the better their performance. This methodology holds promise for examining the mental model of any system. Full Text>

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