Representational redescription model: what it is and what it offers

Do you know the representational redescription model?

It is a cognitive model created by professor and neurocognition researcher Annette Karmiloff-Smith. This model attempts to explain how our mind works to obtain and transform knowledge.

    What is the model of representational redescription?

    The representative redescription model is a model proposed by neuroscientist Annette Karmiloff-Smith. It is a model of cognitive development, which provides insight into the cognitive aspects that develop during human language acquisition and development.

    What the representational redescription model promotes is to establish new systems of relations between the different representations that we have, at the mental level, of reality (of ourselves, of the context, of the circumstances, of the relationships, objects, etc.).

    The model also defends the importance of making explicit two elements that are part of our mental representations: the object or attitude, on the one hand, and the representative agent, on the other.


    In terms of its characteristics, one of the functions of the Representational Redescription Model is to change the view of the world that the person has, as well as the theories, ideas or knowledge that he has acquired about his surroundings.

    Through his model, Karmiloff-Smith he departs from the structuralist tradition and opts for an approach where the key element is the assumptions; According to Karmiloff-Smith, hypotheses are theories in action that allow us to formulate, define (and redefine) the way we think.

    His model attaches great importance to the vital stage of childhood; more precisely, the theory on which the model of representational redescription establishes that children’s mental activity is singled out by the process of explanation certain implicit representations, through different phases where an internal reorganization takes place in the mind of the child.

      theoretical bases

      At the theoretical level, the bases of the representational redescription model are: innatism and constructivism.

      Innatism is a doctrine that states that certain types of knowledge are innate (not acquired through experience or learning). For its part, constructivism is an educational current which suggests that we are the ones who build our own knowledge, gradually and actively.

      On the other hand, the representational redescription model also takes the perspective of development, without neglecting the innate (more biological) part of every human being.

      Importance of explicit learning

      In the representational redescription model, the concept of “explicit learning” becomes very relevant. This type of learning involves a restructuring of the knowledge we have in a given field.

      In this way, the fact of making explicit an implicit knowledge would be realized starting from the redescription of this knowledge in a new theoretical framework.

      On the other hand, we must keep in mind that in any process of acquiring knowledge, of whatever nature, culture influences us greatly; This way, when we acquire new knowledge (or a new system of representation), we do so through cultural systems that influence us.

      representational redescription

      To better understand how the representational redescription model works, let’s find out what the latter concept is (representational redescription; RR).

      The redescription of the representation is a way to acquire knowledge through our mind; for it, it is a question of using, internally, the information it has already stored, through a process of redescribing mental representations. In other words; it is about re-representing (redescribing) the representations we have of things, in different formats.

      This way, through this process, an implicit representation becomes knowledge. In addition, this process also allows us to build our “I-agent”, a concept of psychotherapy which consists of the identity that we construct at the cognitive level.

      Levels of knowledge representation

      According to Annette Karmiloff-Smith, we can find up to four different levels through which we represent knowledge and on which the model is based. These levels are:

      1. Implicit level (1)

      here are the representations of a procedural nature that would not be accessible to other parts of the cognitive system. Such implicit representations are interpreted in connectionist terms.

      2. Explicit level (1)

      These are the representations that they become symbolic representations (“information packets”), and would be stored in our memory in a “compact” way.. They are both explicit and implicit; explicit because they are in our memory, and implicit because we cannot account for them.

      These representations and the previous ones (implicit level, 1) are effective in situations where an automatic, rapid and immediate response is required.

      3. Explicit level (2)

      It encompasses this information packed into our representation system in a stable and sustainable manner.. In other words, this is the information we have in our memory. This information can be retrieved and updated through new representations.

      4. Explicit level (3)

      Finally, the explicit level (3) of the representational redescription model encompasses true explicit representations; that is, they are those who, in addition to being available, are accessible to others on an explicit (consciously) level.

      These two representations and the previous ones (explicit level, 2), are those which make it possible to tackle new situations, where the required response (or needs) is not automatic, but flexible.

        Operating and learning process

        It is worth mentioning two processes which they are developed in the representational redescription model. These processes are, in fact, two complementary directions that our learning takes:


        The procedural process is a gradual process, which allows you to our mind makes, from existing knowledge, a more automatic type of knowledge (And at the same time, less accessible). An example of learning we do from this process is learning how to solve a Rubik’s cube.

        2. Explicitization

        In the second process, knowledge becomes more and more accessible to our mind; in this case, it is a question of explicitly representing the implicit information, with regard to the procedural representations. An example of this would be learning to play the piano.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Merani, A. (1979). Dictionary of psychology. Mexico: Grijalbo.
        • Moreno, EZ (2015). Reflection on the theoretical proposition of the Karmiloff-Smith representational redescription model. La Tercera Riba, (15). National University of Cordoba-Argentina.
        • Tolchinsky, L. (1996). Beyond the modularity of Annette Karmiloff Smith or how to make developmental psychology a relevant science. Yearbook of Psychology, Barcelona, ​​University of Barcelona, ​​Faculty of Psychology, 69: 199-211.

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