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Mental Models: An Interdisciplinary Synthesis of Theory and Methods

Natalie A Jones, School of Integrative Systems, University of Queensland
Helen Ross, School of Integrative Systems, University of Queensland
Timothy Lynam, CSIRO, Sustainable Ecosystems
Pascal Perez, CSIRO, Marine & Atmospheric Research; ANU, RMAP/RSPAS
Anne Leitch, CSIRO, Sustainable Ecosystems; ARC CoE Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

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Abstract

Mental models are personal, internal representations of external reality that people use to interact with the world around them. They are constructed by individuals based on their unique life experiences, perceptions, and understandings of the world. Mental models are used to reason and make decisions and can be the basis of individual behaviors. They provide the mechanism through which new information is filtered and stored. Recognizing and dealing with the plurality of stakeholder’s perceptions, values, and goals is currently considered a key aspect of effective natural resource management (NRM) practice. Therefore, gaining a better understanding of how mental models internally represent complex, dynamic systems and how these representations change over time will allow us to develop mechanisms to enhance effective management and use of natural resources. Realizing this potential, however, relies on developing and testing adequate tools and techniques to elicit these internal representations of the world effectively.

This paper provides an interdisciplinary synthesis of the literature that has contributed to the theoretical development and practical application of the mental model construct. It explores the utility and applicability of the construct in the context of NRM and includes a review of elicitation techniques used within the field. The major theoretical and practical challenges that arise in drawing on the construct to provide a cognitive dimension to NRM are also addressed.

Key words

cognition; elicitation; mental model; natural resource management
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087