Cognitive maps

There are many different ways to use cognitive maps. However, a three-dimensional room is best suited for mental representation. That is why they are used when planning and designing showrooms, presenting a brand lands or tourist facilities. People find it easier to navigate with the help of axes, landmarks and so forth. Short, clear messages tend to work much better to create a mental image than multiple information signs.


  • Duration
    Long (more than 1 hour)
  • Complexity
  • Group size
    3 to 100 persons

This activity is not suitable online.

Description Long

The cognitive map serves to find out, together with test subjects, what certain terms mean to them and how they relate to each other.  In this regard, the cognitive map is a simplified mental representation of our reality, which is often complex. The essential factor is that social influences, our individual values and personal needs have developed different constructs of reality that can be made visible through this kind of spatial representation. The cognitive map can, therefore, amongst other things, help to eliminate misunderstandings.


Give your participants a topic to work on. For example, let them create the maps individually, to explore the expectations of potential users. You can also visualise specific topics, or the self-conception of groups that interact with each other within an organisation, by having separate teams create the maps.


Be sure to remind your participants to create a two or three-dimensional geographical representation. The size of the territories, the positions of borders and the creation of connections, via streets or rivers, is of great significance. It also provides insights into the emotional world, routines and hierarchies. Also pay attention to the way in which participants approach the sketch, and how it emerges.


Discuss the results with the participants and look for the simplifications, distortions, shared elements, and so forth. Where do new roads appear, where are the borders, focal points, tourist attractions and peculiarities?

Tools list

  • Paper, big, flipchart


Author: Thomas Duschlbauer; Title: Der Querdenker: Das Toolkit mit 30 ausgewählten Methoden (German); ISBN: 9783907100639

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