November 2002. Updated: 16 May 2004; 12 April 2005;
27 March 2006; 20 September 2006; 25 March 2007;
5 November 2008; 29 January 2011

Last Update and Link Check: 7 December 2011.
First published at Moved here, reformatted, with minor updates, 16 June 2013.

Cognitive Mapping

Definitions, Examples, and Resources

Definition of Cognitive Mapping

Cognitive mapping may be defined as

a process composed of a series of psychological transformations by which an individual acquires, codes, stores, recalls, and decodes information about the relative locations and attributes of phenomena in their everyday spatial environment.

Source: Downs RM, Stea D.
Cognitive Maps and Spatial Behavior: Process and Products.
In Downs RM, Stea D. (Eds.) Image and Environment, Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago (1973:8-26)

In more general terms, a cognitive map may be defined as "an overall mental image or representation of the space and layout of a setting", which means that the act of cognitive mapping is "the mental structuring process leading to the creation of a cognitive map".

Reference: Arthur P, Passini R.
Wayfinding: People, Signs, and Architecture
Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson (1992) — Website

History and Use of the Term

Source: Instruction Sheet: Cognitive Mapping Exercise
Planning and Quality Growth, Georgia Department of Community Affairs (PQG), Atlanta, Georgia
(No date shown.) References added.

Cognitive map is the term used to refer to one's internal representation of the experienced world. Cognitive mapping includes the various processes used to sense, encode, store, decode, and use this information. Cognitive maps are invariably incomplete and partially distorted, features that can be revealed in external representations or in spatial behaviors. [...]

Edward Tolman (1947)1 inferred the existence of cognitive maps by recording the spatial behavior of a maze-running rat who took a "short cut" to the final destination by running across the top of a maze instead of following a route through it.

Recognition of this "place learning" activity stimulated multidisciplinary research in spatial knowledge acquisition.

In city planning, Kevin Lynch2 used sketch maps to reveal human knowledge of large-scale complex environments.

Geographers researched the nature of "mental maps" via revealed place preference, subjective distance and configurational (layout) representation using non-metric multidimensional scaling (MDS) and layout matching (spatial congruence) techniques.

The methods used to assess spatial knowledge and examine how it is created have multiplied as researchers from anthropology, psychology, disability studies, artificial intelligence, computer science, and geography have explored assessment methods including pointing (for direction and orientation), interpoint distance examination (for spatial structure and layout and geometry), landmark learning, location/place hierarchies based on anchor point concepts, path integration (short-cutting and spatial updating), piloting (landmark navigation), chunking (route learning), "look-back strategies" (place fixing), verbalizing acquired knowledge (spatial linguistics) and other methods that use repeated behaviors to reveal and assess the spatial information contained in long-term memory (i.e. in cognitive maps).


  1. Tolman EC. Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men
    The Psychological Review 1948;55(4):189-208.
    Retrieved from Classics in the History of Psychology, An internet resource developed by Christopher D. Green York University, Toronto, Ontario. fn. Tolman's work was first delivered in presentations at the University of California, Berkeley (17.03.47) and Western Reserve University, Cleveland (26.03.47)
  2. Lynch K. The image of the city. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press (1960)
    • review: Kevin Lynch – The Image of the City
      Michiel de Lange, The Mobile City (8.05.09)

      [...] A central notion in this book is that of legibility (also called imageability and visibility). Legibility means the extend to which the cityscape can be 'read'. People who move through the city engage in way-finding. They need to be able to recognize and organize urban elements into a coherent pattern. "In the process of way-finding, the strategic link is the environmental image, the generalized mental picture of the exterior physical world that is held by an individual. This image is the product both of immediate sensation and of the memory of past experience, and it is used to interpret information and to guide action" (p.4). Lynch proposes that these mental maps consist of five elements: (1) paths: routes along which people move throughout the city; (2) edges: boundaries and breaks in continuity; (3) districts: areas characterized by common characteristics; (4) nodes: strategic focus points for orientation like squares and junctions; and (5) landmarks: external points of orientation, usually a[n] easily identif[i]able physical object in the urban landscape. Of these five elements, paths are especially important according Lynch, since these organize urban mobility. [...]

    • Kevin Lynch: City Elements Create Images in Our Mind, 1960
      Ethan Sundilson, Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science
    • Spatial Cognition: Learning what has been 'learnt' from cognitive maps
      Jones T. Controversies in Cognition 2006, University of Bath
      Emphasis in original.

      An observer experiencing a novel environment will begin to construct a cognitive representation of that environment.

      — Lynch K. The image of the city. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press (1960)
      — Aragones JI, Arredondo JM. Structure of urban cognitive maps.
          Journal of Environmental Psychology 1985.(5):197-212
Examples of cognitive maps...     Click an image to enlarge and visit site.

Credit: Gillian Gunderson (2009)
CMap for cognitivism from 512
Cognitive Approaches to Learning

Credit: Neil Cohn
Cognitive Map of Graphic Signs
¡Eye © græfIk Semiosis!
A Cognitive Approach to
Graphic Signs and "Writing"

© Project Performance
(Australia) Pty Ltd.

Cognitive map of food systems without the reduction of nitrogen

Credit: Downing TE, Ziervogel G.
Toolkit for Vulnerability and Adaptation Training
Stockholm Environment Institute Oxford Office (June 2004:p.25 of 41)

The Process of Cognitive Mapping

Human Brain Maps Flip During Spatial Navigation
Moheb Costandi, actionpotential blog, (18.11.11)

The brain encodes two distinct maps of the route from one location to another and switches between the two at different phases of the journey, according to new research presented earlier this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C.

We know that a brain structure called the hippocampus, in the medial temporal lobe, is essential for spatial navigation and for encoding spatial memories. It contains at least four different cell types that encode maps of the environment, but exactly how this occurs is unknown.

According to one model, the hippocampus encodes a Euclidean path, or straight line, between point A and point B. Another suggests that it encodes the true path between the two locations, incorporating diversions around obstacles.

Hugo Spiers and Lorelei Howard of the Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience at University College London wanted to investigate whether the brain might actually encode both of these paths. [...]

The results provide a new understand of how the brain's navigational system operates, showing what kind of spatial information is encoded by which brain regions and also when the information is used.

The hippocampus appears to be encoding two different maps of the path to a journey, with the anterior region tracking the Euclidean distance to the final destination and the posterior hippocampus tracking the "true path" and homing in on the destination.

"According to previous models of spatial navigation, the hippocampus does one or the other," says Spiers. "We found it actually does both, and that it flips between the two in an elegant way. There's no model in which it does both and certainly not one proposing that it flips between the two."

Cognitive mapping is a neuropsychological process, with both conscious and unconscious aspects. Cognitive maps can be generated with or without conscious intent, and they are not always self-intimating. "Although the cognitive map represents a set of processes of unknown physiological and controversial psychological nature," write Downs and Stea (1980), "its effect and function are clear. We believe that a cognitive map exists if an individual behaves as if a cognitive map exists."

In An evolutionary function of the depressive reaction: the cognitive map hypothesis (2003), Hans Welling explores the idea that depression may motivate a period of reduced activity after a major loss and allow a necessary time out, during which cognitive structures and inadequate cognitive maps can be updated for altered circumstances.

Most of human action is based on habits. They are not pondered but executed automatically, based on experience and knowledge about the (social) environment and the individual's capacities. Knowledge about physical capacities, social resources and the ongoing relation with them is represented in cognitive maps and schemas (see, e.g., Sandler & Rosenblatt, 1962; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Markus & Wurf, 1987; Baldwin, 1992). These cognitive maps contain knowledge like: how fast can I move, I can count on the help of a friend if necessary, my husband will bring the children to school on Monday and Wednesday; an enormous amount of information about the environment that is used in automatic day-to-day functioning. It is difficult to appreciate how pervasive the use of these maps is; since automatic functioning is designed to liberate attention, most of its working is unconscious. But it is precisely when change occurs that these behavior patterns are being noticed. Everybody who has temporarily lost the use of a hand has become suddenly aware of the hundreds of things that cannot be executed normally or automatically. Simple actions, such as preparing or eating food, dressing or even sitting down, suddenly have to be monitored carefully for them to be carried out without accidents.

This example may also serve to illustrate that introducing changes in cognitive structures will take considerable time, since cognitive maps form an extensive network, where the elements of the individual's environment and existing resources are included numerous times. If a resource disappears, all relevant acts and behaviors in which this resource is present have to be updated. [...]

  • Sandler J, Rosenblatt B. (1962).
       The concept of the representational world.
       The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. 27:128–145.
  • Lazarus RS, Folkman S. (1984).
       Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.
  • Markus H, Wurf E. (1987).
       The dynamic self-concept: A social psychological perspective.
       Annual Review of Psychology. 38:299–337.
  • Baldwin M W. (1992).
       Relational schemas and the processing of social information.
       Psychological Bulletin. 112:461–484.

Different Types of Cognitive Map and Mapping Techniques

Again, while cognitive maps can be created and modified by conscious intent, they also arise and operate without conscious intent, manifested in cognitive structures reflecting values, emotions, behaviors, etc.

Cognitive mapping is an umbrella term encompassing, for example, causal, semantic, and concept mapping — all of which refer to types of mental model or schema — and more precise typologic refinements are possible. Samsonovich and Ascoli (2007) examine conceptual value maps to represent a human value system with a cognitive map beyond spatial and temporal dimensions. Different kinds of cognitive maps, they write, can be "distinguished on the basis of the semantics they represent (logic, values, feelings, qualia) and on the representation systems they map (e.g., one may distinguish contextual and conceptual cognitive maps)".

Samsonovich AV, Ascoli GA.
Cognitive Map Dimensions of the Human Value System Extracted from Natural Language
Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications.

Figure 1. Cognitive maps are abstract metric spaces that reflect semantics of associated symbolic representations. Different kinds of cognitive maps may represent different aspects of semantics and/or map different kinds of representations.

The following paper provides a simplified set of distinctions.

Source: Use of Cognitive Mapping Techniques in Information Systems Development
Siau KL, Tan X. Journal of Computer Information Systems Summer 2008(48)4:49-57
Original examples of maps not available in above source. Causal maps added as examples.
References in excerpt are shown below.

People like using graphical structures to help make sense of information. In psychology, "cognitive map" is a term developed by Tolman (1948) to describe an individual's internal mental representation of the concepts and relations among concepts. This internal mental representation is used to understand the environment and make decisions accordingly. Cognitive maps are regarded as "internally represented schémas or mental models for particular problem-solving domains that are learned and encoded as a result of an individual's interaction with [th]eir environment" (Swan, 1997 pp. 188). Therefore, cognitive maps provide a presentation for what is known and believed, and exhibit [th]e reasoning behind purposeful actions (Fiol & Huff, 1992).

In contrast, cognitive mapping techniques are used to identify subjective beliefs and to portray [th]ese beliefs externally (Fiol & Huff, 1992). The general approach is to extract subjective statements from individuals, within a particular problem domain, about meaningful concepts and relations among these concepts, and [th]en to describe [th]ese concepts and relations in some kind of graphical layout (Swan, 1997). The outcome of a cognitive mapping technique is usually referred to as a cognitive map [...]

Manzoni J-F, Barsoux J-L.
Are Your Subordinates Setting You Up to Fail?
MIT Sloan Management Review
Summer 2009;50(4)

2.1 Causal mapping
Causal mapping is one of the most commonly used cognitive mapping techniques in investigating the cognition of decision makers in organizations (Swan, 1997). Causal mapping is derived from personal construct theory (Kelly, 1955). This theory posits that an individual's set of perspectives is a system of personal constructs and individuals use their own personal constructs to understand and interpret events. In other words, an individual understands [th]e environment with salient concepts (constructs), which can be expressed by ei[th]er simple single-polar phrases or contextually rich bipolar phrases. An example of single-polar phrase is "good reader", while an example of bipolar phrase is "good computer skills - poor computer skills". As revealed by its name, a causal map represents a set of causal relationships among constructs within a belief system. Through capturing the cause effect relationships, insights into the reasoning of a particular person are acquired. [...]

Causal diagram linking proximity of the road to increases in infection and diarrheal disease. Environmental change and infectious disease: How new roads affect the transmission of diarrheal pathogens in rural Ecuador. Eisenberg JNS, et al. PNAS 2006;103:19460-19465. Adapted color.

2.2 Semantic mapping
It must be pointed out that causal assertions are only part of an individual's total belief system. There are some cognitive mapping techniques that can be used to identify other relations among concepts. Semantic mapping, also known as idea mapping, is used to explore an idea without the constraints of a superimposed structure (Buzan, 1993). To make a semantic map, one starts at the center of the paper with the main idea, and works outwards in all directions, producing a growing and organized structure composed of key words and key images. Around the main idea (a central word), five to ten ideas (child words) that are related to the central word are drawn. Each of these "child" words then serves as a sub-central word for the next level drawing (Buzan, 1993). In other words, a semantic map has one main or central concept with tree-like branches. [...]

2.3 Concept mapping
Another popular cognitive mapping technique is called concept mapping. David Ausubel (Ausubel, 1968) emphasized on the importance of prior knowledge in being able to learn about new concepts. Drawing on this theory, Novak (1993) concludes that existing cognitive structures are critical for learning new concepts. A concept map is a graphical representation where nodes represent concepts, and links represent the relationships between concepts. The links, with labels to represent the type of relationship between concepts, can be one-way, two-way, or non-directional. The concepts and the links may be categorized, and the concept map may show temporal or causal relationships between concepts. Concept mapping is useful in generating ideas, designing a complex structure, communicating complex ideas, aiding learning by explicitly integrating new and old knowledge, as well as assessing understanding or diagnosing misunderstanding (Jonassen, Beissner, & Yacci, 1993). [...]
[Read More]

  • Ausubel D. (1968)
       Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
  • Buzan T. (1993)
       The Mind Map Book. London: BBC Books.
  • Fiol CM, & Huff AS. (1992)
       Maps for managers: where are we? where do we go from here?
       Journal of Management Studies 29(3):267-285.
  • Jonassen DH, Beissner K, & Yacci MA. (1993)
       Structural knowledge: Techniques for conveying, assessing, and
       acquiring structural knowledge. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Kelly GA. (1955)
       The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton & Company Inc.
  • Novak JD. (1993)
       How do we learn our lesson? Taking students through the process.
       The Science Teacher 60(3):50-55.
  • Swan J. (1997)
       Using cognitive mapping in management research: Decisions about technical
       innovation. British Journal of Management 8(2):183-198.
  • Tolman E. (1948)
       Cognitive maps in rats and men. Psychological Review 55(4):189-208.

Definition of a Concept Map

A Concept map is a type of cognitive map, in this sense, which may be taken to represent

a structured process, focused on a topic or construct of interest, involving input from one or more participants, that produces an interpretable pictorial view (concept map) of their ideas and concepts and how these are interrelated.


Basically, a concept map is a graphical representation of the structure of knowledge.

In the 1960s, Joseph D. Novak (1993) at Cornell University began to study the concept mapping technique. His work was based on the theories of David Ausubel (1968), who stressed the importance of prior knowledge in being able to learn about new concepts. Novak concluded that "Meaningful learning involves the assimilation of new concepts and propositions into existing cognitive structures." A concept map is a graphical representation where nodes (points or vertices) represent concepts, and links (arcs or lines) represent the relationships between concepts. The concepts, and sometimes the links, are labeled on the concept map. The links between the concepts can be one-way, two-way, or non-directional. The concepts and the links may be categorized, and the concept map may show temporal or causal relationships between concepts. A concept map is a graphical representation where nodes (points or vertices) represent concepts, and links (arcs or lines) represent the relationships between concepts. The concepts, and sometimes the links, are labeled on the concept map. The links between the concepts can be one-way, two-way, or non-directional. The concepts and the links may be categorized, and the concept map may show temporal or causal relationships between concepts.


In a brief paper entitled Concept Mapping in Social Research (2010), Bharat Prasad Pokharel refers to concepts as "the abstract terms we employ to explain or make sense of our experience"; he cites Dey's (1993: 275) definition of concept — "a general idea which stands for a class of objects", and provides several examples. Pokharel explores the sources and types of concepts, as well as problems associated with concept use, chiefly, the fact that as the level of abstraction increases and the concept is more removed from objectively verifiable fact, interpretive differences also increase.

Still more challenging are concepts that are familiar but not well understood, such as leadership, motivation, personality, social class, and fiscal policy. For example, personality has been defined in the research literature in more than 400 ways (Hoover, 1991: 21). Although this may seem extreme, writers are not able to express the complexity of the determinants of personality and its attributes (e.g., authoritarianism, risk taking, locus of control, achievement orientation and dogmatism) in a fashion that produces agreement (Saunders et al., 2003). The concepts described represent progressive levels of abstraction — that is, the degree to which the concept does or does not have objective referents. [...]

Factors of personality may also influence the construction and interpretation of concept maps, as does the context model under which one operates at any point in time. In Effect of Concept Mapping on Myers-Briggs Personality Types (2006), John W. Pelley writes that "the process of constructing a concept map is approached differently by each of the Myers-Briggs personality types because these types are characterized by different preferences for information processing".

Sensing types are most at ease with linear thinking that sees knowledge in the form of lists of facts and procedural rules (linear learners), whereas intuitive types are most at ease with pattern thinking that sees knowledge as interconnected concepts (integrative learners). The need for certainty in the sensing type creates a significant barrier to both learning and implementing concept mapping, while the need for big picture learning makes concept mapping a satisfying intellectual exercise for intuitive types. Because concept mapping includes several orders of cognitive complexity, it is a tool that can be used to sensing types overcome the tendency to avoid the use of higher order thinking skills. The result is better developed critical thinking and improved long-term memory. Concept mapping benefits each of the Myers-Briggs personality types by helping to develop the use of their non-preferred mental functions.

For more on the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, see My MBTI Personality Type - MBTI Basics (The Myers & Briggs Foundation), TypeLogic, and Myers Briggs MBTI Personality Type (Lenore Benz Thomson, author of Personality Type: An Owner's Manual). Also see the Thomson-Maidenbaum Personality Inventory, an online test.

Examples of concept maps...     Click an image to enlarge and visit site.

Credit: Brad Paley
Relationships among
Scientific Paradigms

Information Esthetics,
via Visual Think Map

Credit: Meena Kharatmal
Cell Structure and Function
Okeanos, via Wikipedia

Credit: Philip Topham
Key Opinion Leaders for the Insomnia Scientific Research Community (Names Scrambled) - using Social Network Analysis identify top individuals, via Visual Think Map

Credit: Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; via WorldBlog - NBC News.
This unclassified document from the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
shows the U.S. military's plan for "Afghanistan Stability/COIN Dynamics – Security."

Source: So what is the actual surge strategy?
Richard Engel, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent
WorldBlog - NBC News. (2 December 2009)

[...A]n attempt to visualize the strategy reveals how immensely complicated it is for U.S. forces to accomplish. [Above] is the military's schematic, a map of the counter insurgency strategy, that shows what U.S. troops hope to accomplish in Afghanistan. The slide is undoubtedly overwhelming. For some military commanders, the slide is genius, an attempt to show how all things in war – from media bias to ethnic/tribal rivalries – are interconnected and must be taken into consideration. It represents a new approach to war fighting, looking beyond simply killing enemy fighters. It underscores what those fighting wars have long known, that everything matters. [...]

Theory and Use of Concept Maps

Source: The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them
Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008 Novak JD, Cañas AJ. Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2008.
Emphasis in original.

Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge. They include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts. Words on the line, referred to as linking words or linking phrases, specify the relationship between the two concepts. We define concept as a perceived regularity in events or objects, or records of events or objects, designated by a label. The label for most concepts is a word, although sometimes we use symbols such as + or %, and sometimes more than one word is used. Propositions are statements about some object or event in the universe, either naturally occurring or constructed. Propositions contain two or more concepts connected using linking words or phrases to form a meaningful statement. Sometimes these are called semantic units, or units of meaning. Figure 1 shows an example of a concept map that describes the structure of concept maps and illustrates the above characteristics.

Figure 1. A concept map showing the key features of concept maps.
Concept maps tend to be read progressing from the top downward. Click to enlarge.

Another characteristic of concept maps is that the concepts are represented in a hierarchical fashion with the most inclusive, most general concepts at the top of the map and the more specific, less general concepts arranged hierarchically below. The hierarchical structure for a particular domain of knowledge also depends on the context in which that knowledge is being applied or considered. Therefore, it is best to construct concept maps with reference to some particular question we seek to answer, which we have called a focus question. The concept map may pertain to some situation or event that we are trying to understand through the organization of knowledge in the form of a concept map, thus providing the context for the concept map.

Another important characteristic of concept maps is the inclusion of cross-links. These are relationships or links between concepts in different segments or domains of the concept map. Cross-links help us see how a concept in one domain of knowledge represented on the map is related to a concept in another domain shown on the map. In the creation of new knowledge, cross-links often represent creative leaps on the part of the knowledge producer. There are two features of concept maps that are important in the facilitation of creative thinking: the hierarchical structure that is represented in a good map and the ability to search for and characterize new cross-links.

A final feature that may be added to concept maps is specific examples of events or objects that help to clarify the meaning of a given concept. Normally these are not included in ovals or boxes, since they are specific events or objects and do not represent concepts. [...] [Read More]

The Medicine Wheel as a Concept Map

The framework described above is quite specific, yet concept maps can take many forms. In the following example, utilizing the Medicine Wheel, hierarchical structure depends upon the context and perspective from which one approaches the map.

The Medicine Wheel is a model of all creation, both reality and metaphor, representing all aspects and all facets of life.1,5,6 Everyone and everything has a place in the natural order of the universe. Each point on the circle represents a different yet equally valid perspective on reality.2 There is no uniform version of the Medicine Wheel. The culture and religion of each of the approximately 350 tribal groups was community-based, and it is thought that the development of the individual was emphasized in the context of a greater whole, supporting individual differences and avoiding conflict within the tribe.2

Bighorn Medicine Wheel

Image Credit: Medicine Wheel sunset photograph by Tom Melham. Stanford SOLAR Center (2008)

Medicine Wheels thus take many different forms, and it is not always clear what the unique meaning or specific use of them might have been. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming7 is a good case in point.

In 1974, an archaeoastronomer named Jack Eddy visited this Medicine Wheel and studied its alignments, that is, its arrangements of rocks, cairns, and spokes. He found the arrangements point to the rising and setting places of the Sun at summer solstice, as well as the rising places of Aldebaran in Taurus, Rigel in Orion, and Sirius in Canis Major -- all bright, important stars associated with the Solstice. Later another astronomer, Jack Robinson, found a cairn pair that marked the bright star Fomalhaut's rising point with the Sun 28 days before solstice.3

A given site may have been abandoned by its original creators, then used by others for their own purposes. In many cases, these sites are regarded as places of power.

Aerial view of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel
Image Source: unknown.
Retrieved from, which credits
but image not found. Also at: Atlas Obscura - source unknown.

No one knows the true origin or purpose of the [Bighorn] Medicine Wheel. Prospectors discovered the Medicine Wheel around 1885, however carbon-14 dating done on a piece of wood used in the construction of one of the cairns dates back to 1760. Today, scientists and archeologists believe that the Medicine Wheel was created between A.D. 1200 and 1700 by Native Americans.

There are many theories that explain the intended purpose of the Medicine Wheel. Some archeologists believe that the 28 spokes represent the 28 days in a month, and two of the 6 cairns mark the horizons of sunrise and sunset, while the remaining four mark the rising of the three brightest stars. Other archeologists claim that the Native Americans who built the Medicine Wheel had no use for an organized calendar because they were not farmers. These archeologists believe instead that the Medicine Wheel carried religious significance and was used in religious ceremonies. Still other archeologists believe that the Medicine Wheel was a place for powerful events to take place and that people visited the sacred site to gain strength and power.

Whatever the Medicine Wheel was originally built for, it has been used as a place of prayer for many Native Americans. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe was known to fast at the Wheel, while Chief Washakie of the Shoshone tribe claimed to have obtained his medicine there.4

Regarding the origin and ubiquity of the Medicine Wheel among the Five Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca) of the Iroquois Confederacy, consider the following summary:

Tribes were obsessed with wiping out their "enemies." Then a dramatic shift in perception occurred, and a peace was realized, which lasted for a period of 150 to 200 years. This long truce was the result of a great Iroquois chief, (sounds like Agonawila), later to become Hiawatha, who urged the tribes to cease the madness of brother killing brother, and formed an alliance, which came to be known as the Confederation of Nations. The Confederation recognized that Indian peoples were more alike than different. Even though they spoke different dialects, they had the same basic belief systems and followed similar traditions.

An important part of this transformation was the medicine wheel, which was placed in front of every tepee, and decorated in special symbols, colors, and stones, to let people entering the tribe know about its inhabitants. The wheel was a reflection of an individual's strengths and weaknesses, and it gave people guidelines to follow for personal growth. It told people what they needed to learn and what they needed to teach. Everyone was ordered to work on themselves, or else leave the tribe. After several generations of this work, people lost the concept of blame and anger. This, in turn, resulted in the longest peace in modern history.8

As Jacqueline Ottmann (2005) writes:

Most First Nations people believe that all of creation, seen and unseen, is interconnected. Essentially, all things are seen as related, and there is a personal connection and relationship to all things. Because things are connected and interconnected there is significance to everything large and small. Chief Seattle (as cited in Jeffers, 1991) said, "This we know: All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves" (p. 20). Consequently, harmony is continually sought and all of creation is valued and essentially revered because of the inextricable interconnectedness of our universe. There is a belief that even the slightest event, action, or thought may have tremendous repercussions. [...]9

With these contextual notes in mind, here's a closer look at a Medicine Wheel as a concept map.

The above illustration is my adaptation of the Ojibway Medicine Wheel presented by The Rouge Valley Foundation (1997). Additional descriptors have been added from several of the following sources:

Image Credit: Mark Dodich
For source info, see Animal Medicine Energy

  1. Medicine Wheel
    First Nations Legacy on the Rouge, Rouge Valley Foundation, Program Committee and students of Joseph Howe Senior Public School in Scarborough Ontario. (1997)

    A Medicine Wheel is made of stones. There were about 20,000 medicine wheels in North America, before the Europeans came. Medicine wheels are places for energy and healing, teaching and understanding. They are used for times of reflecting on life, and for joyous celebrations.

    The Medicine Wheel represents all of creation. all races of people, animals, birds, fish, insects, trees, and stones, the sun, moon and earth are in the circle of the medicine wheel. Each stone tells part of the story. The circle is all of the cycles of nature, day and night, seasons, moons, life cycles, and orbits of the moon and planets.

  2. Learning Styles and Lessons from the Medicine Wheel: A Native American Philosophy, a Proposed Integrated Model
    Murk PJ, et al. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (Nashville, TN, November 2-5, 1994). ERIC Digest ED378387

    The Medicine Wheel is a Native American legend in which a circle contains countless points each of which represents a different, yet valid, perspective on the nature of reality. According to the Medicine Wheel legend, the north offers the gift of wisdom, the east offers illumination, the south offers innocence, and the west offers introspection. In the Medicine Wheel legend, the various learning styles and types of intelligence are valued equally. The Medicine Wheel metaphor suggests several possibilities for linking individual learning styles, modifying teaching and training practices, and creating different ways of interpreting adult learning. [...]

  3. Bighorn Medicine Wheel
    Stanford SOLAR Center (2008)
  4. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming
    Mystery and intrigue surrounds the famous Medicine Wheel of Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains.
  5. Introductory Medicine Wheel: Cree-Ojibway Customs
    University of Saskatchewan (Undated)
  6. Archaeology: Frequently-Asked Questions — What is a Medicine Wheel?
    Royal Alberta Museum: Collections and Research: Archaeology: FAQ
  7. Bighorn Medicine Wheel
    Native American circle of stones used to predict astronomical events. Atlas Obscura
  8. The Medicine Wheel
    Native Americans Online (2002)
  9. First Nations Leadership Development within a Saskatchewan Context
    Ottmann J. PhD dissertation, Department of Educational Administration, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. (2005:70-1) fn. Jeffers, S. (1991). Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. New York: Dial Books.
  10. Visual Metaphor, Cultural Knowledge, and the New Rhetoric
    St. Clair RN. Chapter 8 (pp. 85-101) of Learn in Beauty: Indigenous Education for a New Century edited by Jon Reyhner, Joseph Martin, Louise Lockard, and W. Sakiestewa Gilbert. Copyright © 2000 by Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona.
  11. Animal Medicine Wheel
    Dodich M. ASTROMARK - Personal Astrological Services. And see: Animal Medicine Energy
  12. Sun Bear Medicine Wheel
    Spaltenstein U. The Esoteric Blog: Ursi's Eso Garden (10.07.06)
  13. Anishnaabek (Ojibwe) interpretation of the medicine wheel
    AAA Native Arts.
  14. Sun Bear Medicine Wheel Diagram
    Star Spider Dancing.

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Semantic Mapping

Semantic mapping is a strategy for graphically representing concepts. Semantic maps portray the schematic relations that compose a concept. It assumes that there are multiple relations between a concept and the knowledge that is associated with the concept. Thus, for any concept there are at least these three types of associations:

  1. associations of class -- the order of things the concept falls into;
  2. associations of property -- the attributes that define the concept; and
  3. associations of example -- exemplars of the concept.

Source: Strategies for Reading to Learn: Semantic Maps
Estes TH. University of Virginia (1999)

Semantic maps are graphic representations that show how key words or concepts are related to one another. In considering the Medicine Wheel above, for example, we dealt with a set of concepts in a sociocultural, psychospiritual model of the world. Unless the reader were already familiar with the worldview so described, the semantic value of the map may not have been immediately apparent. Explanatory text preceded and references followed the core illustration to provide a contextual framework that might engage semantic memory and analysis. The Medicine Wheel concept map becomes a semantic map when it means something in personal experience — when we can process the information in a meaningful way.

Figure 1. A model of aesthetic experience.
A model of aesthetic appreciation and
aesthetic judgments

Leder H, Belke B, Oeberst A, Augustin D.
British Journal of Psychology

The information-processing model at left (Leder, et al. 2004) has application with respect to semantic mapping; it shows the neurocognitive mechanisms of information flow from one component process to the next in the mental representation of a work of art:

perceptual analysis → implicit memory integration → explicit classification → cognitive mastering → evaluation1

Semantic processing involves several different mechanisms as the brain integrates information in response to a work of art, or to a semantic map. Semantic activation may be diffuse or direct, engage a range of neuropsychological and psychodynamic processes, perceptual, memory, and cognitive functions, conscious and unconscious emotional responses, etc. Ideally, such processing results in new associations, inferences, intuitions and insight.

1. Skov M. Neuroaesthetic Problems: A Framework for Neuroaesthetic Research.
In Skov M, Vartanian O., Eds. Neuroaesthetics, Baywood: Amityville, NY (2009:9-26)

Examples of semantic maps...      Click an image to enlarge and visit source.

Semantic map showing an osteoporosis
knowledge structure.

Osteoporosis-related life habits and
knowledge about osteoporosis among
women in El Salvador: A cross-sectional

Hernandez-Rauda R, Martinez-Garcia S.
BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2004(5):29

Semantic graph of French Intellectual Property Rights.
Work-in-progress maps showing linked terms of vocabulary used on the Web to talk about intellectual property rights in French. Produced for economist Yann Moulier-Boutang, UTC. Many more examples onsite. (2008)

Image Credit: Gerhard Nauta (29.03.07)
On the orchestration of humans and
computers in (digital) art history

Digital Art History+Humanities T+R,
Leiden University

Image Credit: Katharine Gates (2002)
Fetish Roadmap. Katharine Gates is the author of Deviant Desires (1999). an illustrated guide to diverse sexual subcultures.

Image Credit: S. Harris
Via CartoonStock - Cartoon Pictures,
Political Cartoons, Animations

Image Credit: Randall Szott. Via Language Log (18.01.07)
IS THE NEW - LeisureArts — Documents every instance of the phrase
"is the new" encountered from various sources in 2005.

Visual Thesaurus is an 3D interactive tool that encourages exploration of semantic relationships in the English language. This remarkable software creates an animated display of words and meanings, placing your word at the center of a display which connects to related words and meanings you can click on to explore further. Built using ThinkMap, a data navigation and animation technology developed by Plumb Design, Visual Thesaurus is available in both a Desktop Edition and an Online Edition.

Type in a word and the Visual Thesaurus will show you a map of synonyms, antonyms, and definitions.

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Semantic Web

Top 5
Semantic Search Engines

A semantics search engine attempts to make sense of search results based on context. It automatically identifies the concepts structuring the texts. For instance, if you search for "election" a semantic search engine might retrieve documents containing the words "vote", "campaigning" and "ballot", even if the word "election" is not found in the source document.

An important part of this process is disambiguation, both of the queries and of the content on the web. What this means is that the search engine — through natural language processing — will know whether you are looking for a car or a big cat when you search for "jaguar". [...]

Pandia Search Engine News

Semantic mapping is an important concept in the evolution of the Web. Brainchild of Tim Berners-Lee, the Semantic Web is a vision of the Web in which "information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation".

The idea involves defining and linking data on the Web in such a way that it is also machine-readable, based on RDF and as yet undefined standards that will allow data to be utilized for automation, integration and data reuse across various applications, rather than simply displayed.


Semantic Web — References

Knowledge representation — the semantic web

More documents from Fulvio Corno.
Web 3.0 The Semantic Web

More presentations from Hatem Mahmoud.

Visual Schemata

Visual Think Map provides many examples of visual schemata that quickly and effectively convey detailed information through inspiring graphics. Among the collection are maps, diagrams, info graphics, mindmaps, brainstorms, sketchbooks, notebooks, flowcharts, and more. In the founder's words, "they are very good resources of inspiration for various design jobs as they solve communica-
tion problems using easy to understand graphics [...] basically great graphics that look great (form) and communicate detailed info quickly and easily (function)." To browse the collection, click Photos.

The image at right, for example, is San Francisco designer Andy Proehl's Mississippi River Type Map, from his "Typography of Place" series, a word map of the cities and towns along the Mississippi River.

Below (click to enlarge), Mapping the Human 'Diseasome', by Marc Vidal, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, and Michael Cusick, links different diseases to the genes they have in common. For a full-sized interactive version, see here.

Andy Proehl: Mississippi River Type Map
Mapping the Human ‘Diseasome'

Rama Hoetzlein, Media Arts & Technology Program, University of California Santa Barbara, includes the relationships between art, new media art, science, technology, war and media theory in his Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media (© 2009).
→ @ Visual Think Map. Click image to enlarge.

Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media

Wayfinding — Which Way Is Up?

Wayfinding in the real world is based on a mental map or mental representation of geometric features such as directions and distances between places. Decision-making is contingent upon one's epistemology of the world, so it also involves semantic relations between concepts with varying reliance on geometric features. Perspectives vary, influenced by a range of factors peculiar to the individual.

Our physical maps of the world almost always place North at top, but this is a matter of convention and is by no means the only way to represent the reality. Indeed, it may create a cognitive dissonance. If I'm living in Australia, shouldn't the top of the world be South? Though I grew up on a farm some eight miles north of a small town, I "knew" the farm was situated to the south. To this day, more than 40 years since I left, the old homestead still seems south in my mind's eye. That's just "where it is", in my mental map.

Image Credit: What´s Up? South!
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.
Available from Wide World of Maps and ODT Maps, Inc.

During the past 500 years, the majority of map publishers were located in Europe and North America. By publishing North-oriented maps, they emphasized the geography of their own two continents, placing the others on the periphery. Such a secondary cartographic position also suggests that these continents were not as important economically or culturally. [...]

The implications of any projection are enormous. Images we see shape our perceptions of the world. It's enriching to see a variety of points-of-view. Have you ever seen a map with Australia on top? The Upside-Down world map comes in a variety of projections, but reverses the poles. Whoever said that North must be "up"? Maps are based on a variety of assumptions, most of which are subliminal and below our threshold of consciousness. [...] DIVERSOPHY.COM

Intrapsychic cognitive maps

I have worked extensively with cognitive maps for purposes of introspective study. The figures below are maps of intrapsychic space in a plural personality, one characterized by multiple principals or subpersonalities, each presenting with an associated archetype. Please note that the arcs between nodes do not have descriptors. Relationships are multiplex in schemata of this sort; those relationships indicated in the map serve to generate deep-level insight that is better served in the absence of precise definition. These are "fuzzy" maps, in that sense, allowing greater freedom for interpretive association.

Map #1
Nine principals and the egoic center

Map #1 is a representation of nine intrapsychic principals in relation to the "I" (egoic center) in the Gestalt of personality. The numbered nodes are colored as I apprehend each particular node. Numbers are also correlated with the Enneagram personality types or life scripts.

Map #2 is a representation of cognitive functions in this Gestalt.

Map #3 is a representation of Map #2 as an intrapsychically visualized two-dimensional plane, a coronal section. I can "see" the map, and when I "inhabit" the center, as "I" look to the nine principals, each is apprehended as a fuzzy three-dimensional sphere. Each sphere has awareness, a unique identity, and "I" communicate with each in different ways, verbal and non-verbal.

Image Credit: Head outline adapted from the original presented by Martin Simunek, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Czech Technical University, Prague. See Visualization of talking human head, Figure 4.

Map #4 represents the Gestalt of all nine principals and the "I" (central sphere), acting in unity through the relational self (upper sphere).

These maps represent an inner landscape of continuously evolving factors. The representations are static, but the factors so portrayed are not.

Additional interpretations...
In Art at the Event Horizon (2006), new media artist Avi Rosen1,2,3 uses my second map (Map #2) to illustrate human cognition as a black hole. Translated from the original Hebrew by Sonia Dantziger, Rosen writes:

It is possible to compare areas of the brain to micro-black holes, or centres in cyberspace where Bose-Einstein processes take place. The wrapping of the body, including the senses, serves as an event horizon, and the singularity as the soul or consciousness. The topology of consciousness resembles a torus, allowing circular movement from place to place in consciousness, and also making jumps in space-time, similar to networks in cyberspace and black holes in space.

The associative cortex role is to establish new nets, and omni connection of neurons in the brain. This act is similar to the Internet build-up. "The brain has no knowledge in it, until the neuron interconnection is built. Our identity is based on how our neurons are interconnected" (Restak, 2001h 26). [...]

Einstein-Rosen bridgeFigure 1. Einstein-Rosen bridge, from: Kaku 1994, 253. Avi Rosen, Art at the Event Horizon (2006).

This article compares real space, mental space, and virtual electronic space that connect them. The claim is that the three topological spaces are similar to a torus. Concentrations of mass in each of the three spaces create areas that bend distance and time, like the phenomenon of a black hole. Cyberspace is the electronic unifier of the three spaces, and enlarges the event horizon (the boundary of the black hole) of human consciousness. The topology falling within the boundaries of the event horizon is a non-Euclidean geometric distortion in the style of Riemann, and Einstein's general theory of relativity. A new examination of these phenomena using technical tools, leads to a different view of concepts, mainly post-modernistic, such as: simulacra, schizophrenia, hyper-reality, hyper-space, hyper-spectral sound and image, that today dominate the real world view, and the definition of cyberspace and human consciousness, and art. Cyberspace is the extension of the human brain that creates integrated consciousness.

Cognitive maps enable interpretational multiplexing. While quite beyond the highly internalized objective of my original map, which was intended as an exploration of personal identity in a gestalt of inner voices, Rosen's work stimulated new questions and insights. Looking from without, looking from within, looking to a destination...

Map #2
Cognitive map of intrapsychic activity
Map #3
Map #4
Nine principals, egoic center, and the unified expression of personality

A more detailed map.

The next two maps deal with archetypal influences, drives, functions, and typologic descriptors. Though it seems rather skeletal, at this writing, the first map proved very useful to me when it was created several years ago. The second map, a recent revision which supersedes a similar map created at the same time as the first, provides me with a basic framework to reassess certain eclectic constructs and operational predicates.

A variation, exploring additional factors.
Image representing the relational self is derived from an image of the Cat's Eye nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.