Conceptual model

In the most general sense, a model is anything used in any way to represent anything else. Some models are physical objects, for instance, a toy model which may be assembled, and may even be made to work like the object it represents. They are used to help us know and understand the subject matter they represent. The term conceptual model may be used to refer to models which are represented by concepts or related concepts which are formed after a conceptualization process in the mind. Conceptual models represent human intentions or semantics. Conceptualization from observation of physical existence and conceptual modeling are the necessary means human employ to think and solve problems. Concepts are used to convey semantics during various natural languages based communication. Since that a concept might map to multiple semantics by itself, an explicit formalization is usually required for identifying and locating the intended semantic from several candidates to avoid misunderstandings and confusions in conceptual models.[1]


Models of concepts and models that are conceptual

The term "conceptual model" is ambiguous. It could mean a model of concept or it could mean a model that is conceptual. A distinction can be made between what models are and what models are models of. With the exception of iconic models, such as a scale model of Winchester Cathedral, most models are concepts. But they are, mostly, intended to be models of real world states of affairs. The value of a model is usually directly proportional to how well it corresponds to a past, present, future, actual or potential state of affairs. A model of a concept is quite different because in order to be a good model it need not have this real world correspondence.[2]

Models of concepts are usually built by analysts who are not primarily concerned about the truth or falsity of the concepts being modeled. For example, in management problem structuring, Conceptual Models of human activity systems are used in Soft systems methodology to explore the viewpoints of stakeholders in the client organization. In artificial intelligence conceptual models and conceptual graphs are used for building expert systems and knowledge-based systems, here the analysts are concerned to represent expert opinion on what is true not their own ideas on what is true.

Type and scope of conceptual models

Conceptual models (models that are conceptual) range in type from the more concrete, such as the mental image of a familiar physical object, to the formal generality and abstractness of mathematical models which do not appear to the mind as an image. Conceptual models also range in terms of the scope of the subject matter that they are taken to represent. A model may, for instance, represent a single thing (e.g. the Statue of Liberty), whole classes of things (e.g. the electron), and even very vast domains of subject matter such as the physical universe. The variety and scope of conceptual models is due to the variety of purposes had by the people using them.

Models in philosophy and science

Mental model

In cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind, a mental model is a representation of something in the mind,[3] but a mental model may also refer to a nonphysical external model of the mind itself.[4]

Metaphysical models

A metaphysical model is a type of conceptual model which is distinguished from other conceptual models by its proposed scope. A metaphysical model intends to represent reality in the broadest possible way. This is to say that it explains the answers to fundamental questions such as whether matter and mind are one or two substances; or whether or not humans have free will.

Conceptual model vs. semantics model

Semantics are the actually intention when human practice conceptual modeling or use conceptual model after the conceptualization.[1] A cognitive argumentation is that human use languages to think. By languages, human actually use language elements and the relationships which are concepts and concept models. Effort to formalize and clarify the semantics of an expression in languages is closely related to identify and locate the intended semantics which underlie the superficial expression in the form of notations of concepts and concept models.

Epistemological models

An epistemological model is a type of conceptual model whose proposed scope is the known and the knowable.

Logical models

In logic, a model is a type of interpretation under which a particular statement is true. Logical models can be broadly divided into ones which only attempt to represent concepts, such as mathematical models; and ones which attempt to represent physical objects, and factual relationships, among which are scientific models.

Model theory is the study of (classes of) mathematical structures such as groups, fields, graphs, or even universes of set theory, using tools from mathematical logic. A structure that gives meaning to the sentences of a formal language is called a model for the language. If a model for a language moreover satisfies a particular sentence or theory (set of sentences), it is called a model of the sentence or theory. Model theory has close ties to algebra and universal algebra.

Mathematical models

Mathematical models can take many forms, including but not limited to dynamical systems, statistical models, differential equations, or game theoretic models. These and other types of models can overlap, with a given model involving a variety of abstract structures.

Scientific models

A scientific model is a simplified abstract view of the complex reality. A scientific model represents empirical objects, phenomena, and physical processes in a logical way. Attempts to formalize the principles of the empirical sciences, use an interpretation to model reality, in the same way logicians axiomatize the principles of logic. The aim of these attempts is to construct a formal system for which reality is the only interpretation. The world is an interpretation (or model) of these sciences, only insofar as these sciences are true.[5]

Statistical models

A statistical model is a probability distribution function proposed as generating data. In a parametric model, the probability distribution function has variable parameters, such as the mean and variance in a normal distribution, or the coefficients for the various exponents of the independent variable in linear regression. A nonparametric model has a distribution function without parameters, such as in bootstrapping, and is only loosely confined by assumptions. Model selection is a statistical method for selecting a distribution function within a class of them, e.g., in linear regression where the dependent variable is a polynomial of the independent variable with parametric coefficients, model selection is selecting the highest exponent, and may be done with nonparametric means, such as with cross validation.

In statistics there can be models of mental events as well as models of physical events. For example, a statistical model of customer behavior is a model that is conceptual, (because behavior is physical) but a statistical model of customer satisfaction is a model of a concept (because satisfaction is a mental not a physical event).

Social and political models

Economic models

In economics, a model is a theoretical construct that represents economic processes by a set of variables and a set of logical and/or quantitative relationships between them. The economic model is a simplified framework designed to illustrate complex processes, often but not always using mathematical techniques. Frequently, economic models use structural parameters. Structural parameters are underlying parameters in a model or class of models. A model may have various parameters and those parameters may change to create various properties.

Models in systems architecture

A system model is the conceptual model that describes and represents the structure, behavior, and more views of a system. A system model can represent multiple views of a system by using two different approaches. The first one is the non-architectural approach and the second one is the architectural approach. The non-architectural approach respectively picks a model for each view. The architectural approach, also known as system architecture, instead of picking many heterogeneous and unrelated models, will use only one integrated architectural model.

Models in information system design

Conceptual models of human activity systems

Conceptual models of human activity systems are used in Soft systems methodology (SSM) which is a method of systems analysis concerned with the structuring of problems in management. These models are models of concepts; the authors specifically state that they are not intended to represent a state of affairs in the physical world. They are also used in Information Requirements Analysis (IRA) which is a variant of SSM developed for information system design and software engineering.

Logico-linguistic models

Logico-linguistic modeling is another variant of SSM that uses conceptual models. However, this method combines models of concepts with models of putative real world objects and events. It is a graphical representation of modal logic in which modal operators are used to distinguish statement about concepts from statements about real world objects and events.

Data models

Entity-relationship model

In software engineering, an entity-relationship model (ERM) is an abstract and conceptual representation of data. Entity-relationship modeling is a database modeling method, used to produce a type of conceptual schema or semantic data model of a system, often a relational database, and its requirements in a top-down fashion. Diagrams created by this process are called entity-relationship diagrams, ER diagrams, or ERDs.

Entity-relationship models have had wide application in the building of information systems intended to support activities involving objects and events in the real world. In these cases they are models that are conceptual. However, this modeling method can be used to build computer games or a family tree of the Greek Gods, in these cases it would be used to model concepts.

Domain model

A domain model is a type of conceptual model used to depict the structural elements and their conceptual constraints within a domain of interest (sometimes called the problem domain). A domain model includes the various entities, their attributes and relationships, plus the constraints governing the conceptual integrity of the structural model elements comprising that problem domain. A domain model may also include a number of conceptual views, where each view is pertinent to a particular subject area of the domain or to a particular subset of the domain model which is of interest to a stakeholder of the domain model.

Like entity-relationship models, domain models can be used to model concepts or to model real world objects and events.


  1. ^ a b Yucong Duan, Christophe Cruz (2011), Formalizing Semantic of Natural Language through Conceptualization from Existence. International Journal of Innovation, Management and Technology(2011) 2 (1), pp. 37-42.
  2. ^ Gregory, Frank Hutson (1992) Cause, Effect, Efficiency & Soft Systems Models Warwick Business School Research Paper No. 42 (ISSN 0265-5976) in January 1992. With revisions and additions it was published as Cause, Effect, Efficiency and Soft Systems Models in Journal of the Operational Research Society (1993) 44 (4), pp 149-168.
  3. ^ Mental Representation:The Computational Theory of Mind, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, [1]
  4. ^ Mental Models and Usability, Depaul University, Cognitive Psychology 404, Nov, 15, 1999, Mary Jo Davidson, Laura Dove, Julie Weltz, [2]
  5. ^ edited by Hans Freudenthal (1951), The Concept and the Role of the Model in Mathematics and Natural and Social Sciences, p. 8-9

See also

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