Dual Coding Theory (Clark & Paivio)

Clark, J.M., & Paivio, A. (1991). Dual Coding Theory and Education. Educational Psychology Review, 3, 149-210.

In this article, the authors describe the “meta-model” of psychological processing proposed by Dual Coding Theory, then demonstrate how acting upon the theory’s implications may advance the design of educational products/environments, as well as the practice of pedagogy as a whole.

The theory assumes two cognitive subsystems:

  • A verbal system that contains “word-like codes” (logogens) that symbolize concrete and abstract ideas. These codes are processed in a sequential manner. [similar to Miller’s “chunks”]
  • A non-verbal system that contains “non-linguistic objects” (imagens), such as images, sounds, actions, visceral sensations related to emotions. Information is encoded in parallel or simultaneously.
  • Logogens are organized in terms of associations and hierarchies while imagens are organized in terms of part-whole relationships.

DCT identifies three types of processing: (A task may require any or all of the three kinds of processing)

  • Representational, the direct activation of verbal or non-verbal representations.
  • Referential, or “crossing the aisle” activation between the verbal and non-verbal systems. Leads to “imaging to words” or “naming to pictures.”
  • Associative activation occurs within the verbal or non-verbal system.

The chapter also discusses some implications of this model in terms of activation characteristics. For example, there are three main factors that affect the speed or likelihood that words will activate mental images: 1) The extent to which the imagery system has been primed (by instruction to “pre-image” or by use of images), 2) the “imagery value” or concreteness of material, and 3) the variable natural tendency and capacity of the subject to use imagery. One can imagine how such information may be applied to create successful lessons plans or multimedia. For example, according to DCT, the use of images linked to words, and of concrete and vivid language may assist learners with processing of complex material.

Along those same lines, the authors have found imagery effects implying that “the additive effect of imagery and verbal codes is better than a verbal code alone” (p. 166). Also, because imagens exist in a part-whole structure, one may employ an image element to activate a more complete or compound image. “The capacity of a partial cue to reactivate the entire representation is known as redintegration…the construction of an interactive image of a dog sitting on a chair permits later presentation of the dog or chair alone to redintegrate the entire image and thereby mediate retrieval of the other object” (p. 166).¬† (Also see the conceptual peg hypothesis — concrete words can be effective cues for retrieving compound images of stimulus-response pairs.)

“Within the verbal system, asking students to classify names of animals (e.g., crocodile, rabbit) into categories primes verbal associative pathways and responses associated with superordinates (e.g., for reptile, mammal), and inhibits other associations not relevant to the task…” (p.156). [Concept mapping and the concept mapping function within teachable agent software such as Betty’s Brain can prime such “good” associations.]


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