I meant to address this a week ago! The mental models perspective is similar to schema theory. David Roskos-Ewoldsen (now just David Ewoldsen) has done a lot of work with mental models. I don't remember offhand who came up with the neural networks perspective--I'd have to scour my readings from grad school. It's a pretty widely-known perspective in cognitive psychology.
Essentially with mental models (and schema) is that we categorize our experiences along different dimensions relevant to us. A specific conflict might be categorized as "race" to one person, "sex" to another, or "free speech" to a third person. It's all based on our past experiences, which map our current experiences.
The more experiences and information we categorize along a particular dimension, the more elaborate the mental model. This might make this dimension more salient--or top of the mind--in our everyday experience, causing us to interpret many of our experiences in this light. We also can see the complexity and detail of a particular dimension--allowing us to notice different nuances within this dimension.