Mental models: An Interdisciplinary Synthesis of Theory and Methods.


Natalie A. Jones , Helen Ross , Timothy Lynam , Pascal Perez and Anne Leitch

Published 2011.

Ecology and Society 16(1):46.

Full article:


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.


Jones, N. A., H. Ross, T. Lynam, P. Perez, and A. Leitch. 2011. Mental models: An Interdisciplinary Synthesis of Theory and Methods. Ecology and Society 16(1):46.


Helen Ross: Social dimensions in natural resource management
Timothy Lynam: Social change
Pascal Perez: Agent-based models and participatory modeling
Anne Leitch: communication specialist