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The study of human values in understanding and managing social-ecological systems

Natalie A. Jones, University of Queensland
Sylvie Shaw, University of Queensland
Helen Ross, University of Queensland
Katherine Witt, University of Queensland
Breanna Pinner, University of Queensland


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The study of cognition can provide key insights into the social dimension of coupled social-ecological systems. Values are a fundamental aspect of cognition, which have largely been neglected within the social-ecological systems literature. Values represent the deeply held, emotional aspects of people’s cognition and can complement the use of other cognitive constructs, such as knowledge and mental models, which have so far been better represented in this area of study. We provide a review of the different conceptualizations of values that are relevant to the study of human-environment interactions: held, assigned, and relational values. We discuss the important contribution values research can make toward understanding how social-ecological systems function and to improving the management of these systems in a practical sense. In recognizing that values are often poorly defined within the social-ecological systems literature, as in other fields, we aim to guide researchers and practitioners in ensuring clarity when using the term in their research. This can support constructive dialogue and collaboration among researchers who engage in values research to build knowledge of the role and function of values, and hence cognition more broadly, within a social-ecological systems context.

Key words

cognition; human-nature relationships; values

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087