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20. Towards a Methodology for the Measurement of Knowledge Structures of Ordinary People (The Conceptual Content Cognitive Map) (3cm)

DescriptionThe research project focuses on the cognitive factors in environmental perception, decision making and problem solving. The theoretical basis for the study is the cognitive map. The authors define cognitive maps as 'hypothesised knowledge structures embodying people's assumptions and beliefs, 'facts' and misconceptions about the world'. (p.580). They contend that these assumptions and beliefs provide people with a framework for interpreting new information and for determining appropriate responses to new situations.

The method used in this study is referred to as the 3CM method and is developed from previous research by e.g. Kaplan S. (1976) and Kaplan and Kaplan, (1989). It is a technique for "measuring peoples' cognitive maps of complex domains" (p599). It is used here in two forms: the 'open-ended 3CM' suitable for small samples; and the 'structured implementation' method, more suitable for larger sample sizes. An example of the latter method is given below:

To discover the impact of two forms of information (stories and fact sheets) on employees' views on car-pooling to work, participants were randomly selected and placed in three groups (control, those given story based information and those given fact sheets). Groups were given a list of 46 concepts and an envelope with 50 cards and 8 paper clips for securing the final categories. They were each instructed to imagine that they had to present their views on car-pooling and organise their thoughts accordingly. The way in which participants sorted the concepts and labelled the groups was analysed.


The results suggested that story based information was more effective than fact based information in changing peoples' views on car-pooling. Participants were considered to have differentiated between those objects they 'own' from those they do not. For example no one chose to categorise all 46 concepts and participants were likely to ignore concepts which they had not encountered before.

The authors claim that the method is valid and is complementary to other 'traditional techniques':

  • 3CM places the focus on 'owned' objects and involves identifying concepts which are perceived to be important and then organising them. Q-sort, by contrast, generally involves arranging a given set of cards along a single, researcher defined, dimension.
  • 3CM tasks are more useful in identifying differences in groups' cognitive maps whereas survey information reveals more about a group's ability to use knowledge.
  • 3CM is user friendly. It allows participants greater freedom of expression and facilitates the thought processes. It 'allows individuals to explore their knowledge structure in the process of externalising it' (p611).
  • 3CM fills the gap between qualitative and quantitative research approaches and can approximate hierarchical relationships between objects.
Published Environment and Behavior, 29(5):579-617
Authors Kearney, A. R. and Kaplan, S.
Date 1997
Publisher Sage Publications, Inc.
Price subscription c. £183 p.a. (6)
Keywordscognitive maps; mental maps; landscape preference; environmental preference; environmental aesthetics; forest management.

The objective of this research paper was to develop a measurement procedure using key concepts from the SESAME theory of cognitive maps developed by Kaplan and Kaplan and others. Whilst this method has not been used by the researchers on visual material it is one which has potential for wider application in research into landscape aesthetics and cognition.

Pomeroy et al (1983) for example used similar task based research to develop their theories on the perception of non-spectacular landscape. The research was based on the personal construct theory (Harrison and Sarre, 1976) and used a repertory grid methodology (Ward and Russell, 1981). The study required participants to sort forty colour prints of riverscape into as many piles as they wished, based on any criteria they chose. By analysing the clusters the common attributes of the photographs were used to identify factors significant to landscape evaluation.


Harrison, J. and Sarre, W. (1976) "Personal Construct Theory, the repertory grid, and environmental cognition.." in G.T. Moore and G.G. Golledge, eds, Environmental Knowing: theories, research and methods. Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania: Dowden, Hutchison and Ross.

Kaplan, S. (1976). "Adaption, Structure and Knowledge". in G.T. Moore and G.G. Colledge, eds, Environmental Knowing: theories, research and methods. Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania: Dowden, Hutchison and Ross.

Kaplan S. and Kaplan, R. (1989). Cognition and Environment: Functioning in an uncertain world. Ann Arbor, MI: Ulrich's.

Pomeroy, J.W., Green, M.B. and Fitzgibbon, J.E. (1983) Evaluation of Urban Riverscape Aesthetics in the Canadian Prairies. Journal of Environmental Management 17: 263-276.

Ward, L. and Russell, J. (1981). Cognitive Set and Perception of Place. Environment and Behavior. 13: 610-632.