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Recherche et Applications en Marketing
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DOI: 10.1177/205157071002500205
2010 25: 93 Recherche et Applications en Marketing (English Edition)
Damien Chaney
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps

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Definition of mental representations
Mental representations in the field of marketing
The potential contribution of cognitive maps in understan-
ding mental representations
Data collection: structured methods versus non-structured
Encoding and representation of data
Analysis of maps
Reliability and validity: criteria for the scientificity of the
The representation-behavior connection
The cognitive map: a representation of a representation
Recherche et Applications en Marketing, vol. 25, n 2/2010
Analyzing Mental Representations:
The Contribution of Cognitive Maps
Damien Chaney
Assistant Professor
Troyes Champagne School of Management
This article presents a procedure for constructing cognitive maps. Cognitive mapping is an instrument which enables
mental representations to be apprehended and analyzed. The potential contributions of this methodological tool in the field of
marketing are highlighted. The article also discusses cognitive mapping and compares it to other techniques of mental repre-
Keywords: Cognitive mapping, maps, mental representations, methodological tool, qualitative method.
The author thanks Professor Vronique des Garets, Head of the Pedagogy series, as well as the anonymous proofreaders for their valuable com-
He may be contacted at the following e-mail address:
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 93
Having access to the thoughts of consumers and
managers alike and being able to represent these
makes up a large part of the work involved in marke-
ting. However, the majority of methods used to
accomplish these tasks entail a significant limitation.
These methods do not allow the relationships bet-
ween cognitive elements to be clearly represented.
This limitation in turn prevents researchers from
being able to represent the lines of reasoning develo-
ped by their subjects. Cognitive maps, although little
known in marketing, can provide a solution to this
Although the term cognitive map was coined
by Tolman (1948), we owe the beginnings of the
cognitive map as a methodological tool to Cartwright
and Harary (1956) and in particular to Axelrods
(1976) study on the way in which politicians struc-
ture their discourses. Cognitive mapping is a metho-
dological tool which enables us to comprehend the
mental representations of a given individual at a parti-
cular moment in time. It may be distinguished from
other content analysis methods in that it systemati-
cally looks at not only what the individuals are thin-
king, but also the way in which they organize their
thoughts (Fletcher and Huff, 1990), with the relation-
ship between two concepts being expressed graphi-
cally by an arrow indicating the direction of
In the field of management sciences, cognitive
maps are used primarily in strategic management and
entrepreneurship to aid in understanding the deci-
sions made by company directors (Calori, Johnson
and Sarnin, 1992; Fiol and Huff, 1992; Ehlinger,
1996; Verstraete, 1997; Clarke and Mackaness, 2001;
Eden and Ackermann, 2004; Martens, Jennings and
Jennings, 2007; Tyler and Gnyawali, 2009; Winch
and Maytorena-Sanchez, 2009). The basic principle
which has been proposed is as follows: the deciders, in
representing their environment, accumulate informa-
tion which they then organize in order to reach a
decision. Cognitive maps allow us to shed light on
the outcome of this reasoning and capture the mental
representations of the individual at that point in time.
With marketing striving to understand managers
strategic decisions as much as consumers choices, it
seems surprising to note the lack of studies which
utilize the methodological tool of cognitive mapping
(Jones and Eden, 1981; Capelli and Sabadie, 2005;
Chaney, 2008; Durif and Perrien, 2008) to gain an
understanding of mental representations. Yet, cogni-
tive mapping may be able to provide solutions for an
extremely wide range of important issues in marke-
ting: how do consumers see a particular product cate-
gory? What place does the consumer hold in marke-
ters decision-making processes? In what respect
does a particular innovation have a chance of establi-
shing itself, taking consumers mental representa-
tions into account? What image are we able to
construct around a product in accordance with consu-
mers mental designs?
According to Allard-Poesi (1996), cognitive map-
ping has been used so little outside its original field of
application is partially due to the reductive assimilation
created between the tool, i.e., the cognitive map on
the one hand, and the theoretical domain, i.e., the
cognitive approach favored by organizations on the
other, which in turn led to talk of the map trend
(Laroche and Nioche, 1994). However, a methodolo-
gical tool cannot be confused with a theoretical trend
and the limitations of one are not the limitations of
the other (Allard-Poesi, 1996). In addition, a research
method is in no way unique to one theoretical or dis-
ciplinary field.
Consequently, in this article which has both peda-
gogical and methodological objectives, we have three
ambitions: to place cognitive maps in the context of
other mental representation techniques, to show and
illustrate the pertinence of the technique in the field of
marketing and to propose a procedure for designing
maps. To this end, in the first part, we will focus on the
notion of mental representations and the methods
used to comprehend them. In the second part, we will
describe and analyze the different stages necessary
for constructing a cognitive map. Finally, in the third
part, we will propose a discussion on this technique so
as to examine certain essential points.
Damien Chaney 94
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 94
It is first of all necessary to define the concept of
mental representations and to explain the pertinence of
this concept. Marketing research studies which make
use of mental representations typically assess these
using content analyses. We will therefore conclude
this section by presenting the different tools available
to mental representation and by placing cognitive
maps in the context of these tools.
Definition of mental representations
Cognitive mapping aims to enable the compre-
hension of mental representations. If we accept that
representations remain the foundation of mental
structures, it is still worthwhile to broaden the debate
to include other concepts dealing with human reaso-
ning. As Ladwein (1999) states when he talks about
attitude, these other concepts have often been consi-
dered more closely by marketers, particularly
because of their greater operational qualities. The
question which interests us in this article remains the
same: how can we provide a representation of the
way in which subjects associate and articulate particu-
lar mental categories?
Representations are indeed considered to be the
foundation of mental structures in cognitive sciences.
In cognitive psychology, they signify the individuals
processing of information in relation to their own
story (Gallina, 2006). In social psychology, represen-
tations correspond to a form of knowledge based on
common sense (Jodelet, 1984). What is particular
about the concept of representation is that it signifies
not only a cognitive process (the action of representing
something), but also the result of that process (the
representations stored in ones memory) (Denis,
1989). Mental representations can therefore be dis-
tinguished from perception, which deals with the
acquisition of information, and from attitude, which
does not involve the processing of information
(Dussart, 1983). When it comes to mental images,
which comprise social and structural properties
(Gavard-Perret and Helme-Guizon, 2003), these
constitute a particular case in representation.
As a process, representation is a construction
which the subject creates in interaction with the
object in question (Denis, 1989). The representer and
the represented are placed in a relationship of
influence (Gallina, 2006). Reboul and Moeschler
(1992) speak of mental representations as being a
cognitive junction between the reality the referent is
part of and what this reality enables them to think,
i.e., the individuals cognitive system. More than the
simple reproduction function of an initial absent
object, representation enables certain characteristics
of that object to be explained and others clarified, so
that the representation then becomes much clearer to
the individual than the original object is able to be
(Denis, 1993).
In the capacity of a cognitive product, mental
representation can be a tangible object (a drawing) or
an unobservable cognitive entity (Denis, 1989).
Representation allows the individual to store infor-
mation and plan their courses of action.
Representations are internalized models of the sub-
jects environment (Denis, 1989): these models are
stored in the long-term memory and may later be
reactivated and reused as sources of information on
absent or indirectly observable entities. Mental repre-
sentations are used to organize and plan an action
(Mannoni, 1998). They are an instrument used to
guide and also regulate an individuals actions
(Denis, 1989), which makes for a potentially very
useful concept in the field of marketing.
Mental representations in the field of marketing
As Gallen (2005) observes, the concept of mental
representation, as such, has been studied very little in
marketing, although its pertinence has been noted on
several occasions (Filser, 1994; Ladwein, 1999).
From the deciders point of view, mental repre-
sentations have been utilized primarily to examine
the way managers simplify and explain the market
(Day and Nedungadi, 1994). Whilst Day and
Nedungadi (1994) have highlighted the fact that
managers develop representations which are oriented
either toward the competition or toward the consu-
mer, the real place of the consumer in managers
thought processes remains a question which has lar-
gely escaped scrutiny in marketing, although this
perspective was briefly glimpsed in the work of
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 95
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 95
Harmsen and Jensen (2004). Yet, studying mental
representations could allow the notion of client oriented
organization to be refined (Deshpande, Farley and
Webster, 1993). By next correlating this orientation
with a company performance criterion (consumer
loyalty for example), researchers may be able to eva-
luate whether or not marketers who concede an active
central role to consumers in their mental representa-
tions achieve better results in the market.
From the consumers point of view, those
research studies dealing with mental representations
were devoted to studying the way in which consu-
mers pictured products in their minds (Johnson and
Fornell, 1987; Hoffman, Novak and Kumar, 2003)
and more particularly how they examined questions
concerning the brand, i.e., how does the consumer
picture the brand in their mind (Aaker, 1996; Keller,
2003)? How do shared representations emerge within a
group of users of one particular brand (Cheng and
Chiu, 2009)? How can a brand aim to develop brand
extensions in the light of the consumers mental
representations (Tafani, Michel and Rosa, 2009;
Michel, 1999)? In the food industry, mental represen-
tations have been used to study the relationship bet-
ween individuals and food items and to understand
the associations the consumer makes (Lahlou, 1996;
Merdji, 2002; Gallen, 2005). Merdji (2002), for
example, in his study on mental representations of
rabbits shows that this animal, by means of the gro-
wing number of cuddly toys and cartoons bearing its
effigy, has changed its status from that of a food ani-
mal to a pet, which may help to explain the economic
difficulties of the rabbit meat industry.
In a more general sense, the concept of mental
representations appears particularly justified for com-
prehending consumers associations and for unders-
tanding the way they picture a category of products
(Zaltman, 1997b). In terms of innovation, studying
the mental representations of consumers enables us to
explain how a product, because it does not fit with the
consumers representations at a particular point in
time, can fail to be accepted. In their analysis of
Thomas Edisons invention of the electric light bulb,
Hargadon and Douglas (2001) show that the design of
the innovation, in order to be fully accepted, had to fit
within an assortment of possibilities already deemed
acceptable. Studying consumers mental representa-
tions and the associations they make with a particular
product category may well enable us to better unders-
tand, quite beyond the commercial sphere alone, what
the consumer considers acceptable as well as what
seems too far removed from their own mental images
(Zaltman and Higie Coulter, 1995).
The next section provides an opportunity to re-
examine the question of mental representation tech-
niques and to place cognitive mapping in the context
of those techniques.
The potential contribution of cognitive maps
in understanding mental representations
In her panorama of types of qualitative studies,
Tesch (1990) utilizes the criterion of language cha-
racteristics, understood either as a culture (and thus
drawing on ethnography) or as a form of communica-
tion drawing on content analyses and textual ana-
lyses, as is the case here. Among the different
methods of analyzing textual data available to the
researcher (Table 1), cognitive maps appeared to be
particularly pertinent for processing mental represen-
tations for three reasons. First, in contrast to other
textual data analysis methods, cognitive mapping
looks not only at the individual but also at the overall
situation, and takes a very holistic perspective (Calori
and Sarnin, 1993). The method involves placing an
individual into a given environment and seeing, at a
particular moment in time, what relationships they
have with this environment in terms of means and
ends. Second, cognitive mapping does not only
consider the counting and quantitative analysis of
text units, but also and particularly the relationships
between cognitive elements (Fletcher and Huff,
1990). Cognitive maps certainly examine the mea-
ning and significance of cognitive elements but they
also endeavor to study the relationships between
these elements: it is more about how a thought is
organized rather than what an individual is saying
about something and how they speak about it (Fallery
and Rodhain, 2007). Thus, in the case of linguistic,
lexical or thematic analyses, in order to have access to
the organization of a thought, it is often necessary to
utilize a semiotic analysis. Cognitive mapping,
however, tends to broaden the analysis of a subject.
Third, the result of the analysis, the map itself, has
proven to be a compact and powerful communication
tool for both the researcher and the consultant
(Allard-Poesi, Drucker-Godard and Ehlinger, 2003).
Damien Chaney 96
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 96
As previously specified, mental representations
indicate both a cognitive process and the product of
this process. However, cognitive mapping does not
aim to comprehend a process; it enables us to take a
photograph of an individuals cognition at a given
point in time. Therefore, what we are interested in
here is the cognitive product and not at all the way
the representation is constructed by the subject.
Cognitive maps identify the relationships between
different cognitive elements. Huff (1990) counts five
families of cognitive maps which she places on a
continuum where the effort required by the resear-
cher to interpret them increases. We can sort these
families into two groups. The first is made up of
maps which aim to: (1) evaluate the attention, associa-
tion and importance of concepts, or (2) reveal the
dimensions of cognitive taxonomies and categories.
By way of illustration, this was the approach used by
John et al. (2006). In this example, looking at the
Mayo clinic (United States), the authors compared
clients representations with those of non-clients on
the basis of a standard map (Diagram 1). The second
group consisted of maps which aimed to (3) expose the
dynamics of the system using influence connections,
(4) show the structure of the arguments and the
underlying logic of the decisions behind certain
actions, or (5) specify organization, frames of refe-
rence and perceptual codes. In the next part of this
article, we will focus on the second group of maps,
first because this requires a more precise procedure,
and second because it allows us to give a more detailed
account of the subjects reasoning thanks to its
demonstration of the connections in play, which are
more than simple associations between concepts.
The connections captured in cognitive maps are
represented in a flowchart in which one concept is
linked to another concept, the relationship between
the two being symbolized by an arrow. Designed to
make the subjects reasoning clear, the maps try to
reveal their underlying logic. This reasoning may be
more or less complex, which therefore does not
exclude the possibility of probabilistic chains of
thought based on Bayes calculations such as in the
work of Nadkarni and Shenoy (2004).
In terms of the type of relationships represented
in these maps, the literature speaks of causality maps
(Komocar, 1994; Markoczy and Goldberg, 1995;
Hodgkinson, Maule and Bown, 2004). However, it is
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 97
Table 1. Comparison of textual data analysis methods
(inspired by Fallery and Rodhain, 2007 and Allard-Poesi, Drucker-Godard and Ehlinger, 2003)
Analysis Linguistic Lexical Thematic
using cognitive analyses analyses analyses
Field of analysis Structuring How What do we Interpreting
a thought do we speak speak about? content
Analysis Counting cognitive Counting Counting Counting
elements + relationship cognitive cognitive cognitive
between cognitive elements elements elements
Structure of discourse Strong Weak Weak Weak
Structuring of corpus Weak for non-structured Weak Weak Weak
methods, strong for
structured methods
Representation of results Strong: the map Correct Correct Correct
obtained is a powerful
communication tool
for the researcher
and the consultant
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 97
important to recognize, along with Cossette (1994),
that causality is often expressed implicitly and ulti-
mately is much more like a connection of influence.
Cognitive maps are indeed not capable of distingui-
shing between a relationship of cause and effect and a
relationship expressed in terms of means and ends
(Cossette, 1989). As stated by Allard-Poesi (1996):
Strictly speaking, it is not possible to distinguish
between the representations of two subjects where
one is expressing a mechanical causal relationship (a
drop in prices increases the volume of my sales), and
the other a deliberate strategy (I lower my prices in
Damien Chaney 98
Diagram 1. Examples of cognitive maps without specifying the direction of influence between concepts
(John et al., 2006)
1 2
Standard map for Mayo clinic patients:
Standard map for non-Mayo clinic patients:
The difference in the thickness of the lines represents the strength of the connection associating two
1. The numbers of the concepts correspond to the order in which the researcher listed them in the database of the software program used: they are
only indicative.
2. Figures reproduced with the permission of the American Marketing Association.
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 98
order to increase my sales volume). Cognitive map-
ping highlights the influential relationships between
variables but may thus not account for the causality in
Used within the context of corporate advice,
cognitive mapping is an instrument which helps to
resolve conflicts and make decisions by facilitating
communication between managers. Cognitive map-
ping facilitates the passage from practical conscious-
ness to discursive consciousness (Audet, 1994): the
subject verbalizes and becomes aware of what they
consider is assumed. Used in the context of academic
research, cognitive mapping enables access to indivi-
duals implicit reasoning at a specific point in time
(Swan and Newel, 1994). As noted by Cossette and
Audet (1992), it not only identifies elements which
other content analysis techniques are also capable of
identifying, but enables comparisons and more syste-
matically indicates other aspects as well, particularly in
terms of relationships between concepts, which these
other methods are not able to determine. Cognitive
maps facilitate the analysis of a network of concepts
and the comprehension of a subjects dynamic know-
ledge (Cossette, 1994). Furthermore, given that this
reveals an individuals mental representations, dra-
wing up a cognitive map then enables us to explain
and predict an individuals behavior. Komocar (1994)
shows that an individuals tendency for behavior J
can be predicted by studying the connections of
influence radiating from the concept J on the map.
Bonham and Shapiro (1976) established that the
cognitive map of an experts thoughts concerning the
discovery of Russian missiles in Syria enabled
researchers to predict this experts interpretation of
the crisis in Jordan several years later. The cognitive
map of an individual depicts their mental representa-
tions and therefore provides information on the way in
which they will act.
For McCall and Bobko (1990), when a researcher
chooses a methodological tool, the important thing is
not the tool as such but what it allows us to learn
about a particular problem. Cognitive mapping,
through its vocation of taking a photograph of an
individuals cognition, allows us to capture the mental
representations of a person at a precise moment in
time. McCall and Bobko (1990) further state that the
other important point in choosing a method lies in
the way in which the tool may be implemented. The
procedure of constructing a cognitive map is there-
fore the subject of the second part of this article.
The drawing up of a cognitive map follows a
series of rigorous steps. In accordance with the
recommendations made by Laukkanen (1994), we
propose a seven-step process (Figure 1).
The first phase of this process consists of the pre-
paration. This involves getting to know the field of
application in question. A precise study of the litera-
ture, along with the experience the researcher pos-
sesses in the chosen field of investigation, allow an
ensemble of themes to emerge. These themes are
then confronted with an individuals reality during
the first series of exploratory interviews. These preli-
minary interviews allow an understanding of the
preoccupations and vocabulary of those involved
(Laukkanen, 1994). On the basis of these first two
steps, the researcher may then proceed to collecting the
final material. The phase of constructing the maps
then takes place along with transcription, grouping
into assertions and standardization of concepts and
relationships. The maps may then be analyzed and
represented visually. Let us examine more closely
certain key steps within this process: data collection,
encoding and map analysis.
Data collection: structured methods
versus non-structured methods
Structured methods begin with the researcher
making a selection of variables they deem pertinent
(Bougon, Weick and Binkhorst, 1977). The resear-
cher submits these concepts to the respondent who
comments on them, categorizes them or even esta-
blishes connections between them. Although these
methods do have advantages in terms of facilitating
the processing and comparison of data, it is none the
less true that they impose concepts upon the subjects,
thus depriving them of a part of their own representa-
tions (Cossette and Audet, 1994).
Non-structured methods separate the collection
phases from those of encoding and analyzing the data
(Allard-Poesi, Drucker-Godard and Ehlinger, 2003),
which exponentially increases post-collection and
processing. The distinction is made between docu-
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 99
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 99
mentation methods and interview methods.
Documentation methods, designed to represent the
thought processes of managers, are based on docu-
ments produced by a company. This was for example
the case with Ehlinger (1996) who, through a study
of the internal documents of EDF-GDF, examined
the evolution of the actors representations throu-
ghout a change of strategy. Interview methods
consist of studying the subject without any precon-
ceptions on the variables involved. As highlighted by
the psycho-sociologist, Abric (2003), nearly all stu-
dies of representations rely upon the verbal produc-
tion of individuals or groups. Lacking anything better,
we ask people to talk about the object of the study,
and all the researchers work consists of is using the
most appropriate tools to allow the people questioned
to say what they think. Most interview methods the-
refore consist of conducting semi-directive inter-
views in which the researcher does his or her best to
re-center the discourse in terms of influence relation-
ships. However, it remains possible to build cognitive
maps of unconscious thought processes. Zaltman
(1997a) has developed a non-verbal projective
method, ZMET (which stands for Zaltman Metaphor
Elicitation Technique), in order to be able to map
consumers lines of logic. According to Zaltman
(1997a), in order to understand this reasoning it is
necessary to promote the production of metaphors
which represent levels of abstraction higher than sim-
ply viewing images. His method is therefore based
on selections of images made by the subject on
which a comprehensive study is carried out. ZMET
has served as a foundation for the development of
other methods which endeavor to map representa-
Damien Chaney 100
(1): project planning, preparation of yield, emergence of themes
from the literature
(3): session 2: data collection using structured or non-
structured methods according to the research objective
(2): session 1: unstructured interviews to better define the issue and
identify the subject's vocabulary
(4): rough transcription of data, preliminary analysis
(5): standardization of data: breaking down of text into assertions,
conversion into standard vocabulary
(6): output: visual maps (6): analysis of maps
Figure 1. Process for constructing a cognitive map (inspired by Laukkanen, 1994)
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 100
tions associated with a brand (Joiner, 1998; John et
al., 2006).
Selecting a data collection method depends on
the researchers objectives and on the availability of
sources of information (Table 2).
On the basis of data collection using interviews,
we will illustrate the following steps using a concrete
example from a study aiming to highlight the place
of consumers in managers representations of a
music festival (Chaney, 2008): is the audience truly
at the center of the managers strategic preoccupa-
tions? Are their expectations taken into considera-
tion? The issue raised by the present study aims simply
to provide the reader with the context of the different
illustrations proposed: the goal is therefore not to
solve the issue at hand but to provide a framework
for understanding it.
Encoding and representation of data
According to Bardin (1996), encoding corres-
ponds to a transformation of the raw data from the
text. For the first reading, the encoding phase
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 101
Table 2. The two primary types of data collection techniques used in cognitive mapping
(according to Cossette and Audet, 1994; Ehlinger, 1996; Allard-Poesi, Drucker-Godard and Ehlinger, 2003)
Structured methods
Non-structured methods
Interview methods:
semi-directive interviews,
projective methods
Documentation methods
The subject is asked to
consider variables prese-
lected by the researcher
The subject is questioned exten-
Discourse is gathered on the
basis of documents: communi-
cations, activity reports, mail,
Orientation of the subject
toward variables pertinent
to the researcher
The subject expresses himself fol-
lowing the natural logic: access to
idiosyncratic representations
Possibility of going back to the
text if extra elements are neces-
Comparisons between
maps are facilitated
Accentuated validity: verification
of interpretation with the subject
Absence of dialogic constraints
Less difficulty in proces-
sing data, concision
Collection of explicit and impli-
cit representations: richness of
material collected
Accessibility of data
Reliability of data: stability
and replicability
Possibility of standardizing data
to facilitate analogies
Possibility of longitudinal stu-
Concepts are imposed on
the respondent
Difficult post-collection proces-
Only explicit data are processed
Too many variables to
consider may provoke a
rejection from the subject
Comparing maps requires stan-
dardizing similar concepts:
concept fusion phase
Data are aimed at communica-
ting with a third party: dis-
course is premeditated, unnatu-
Subject is locked into a dis-
course which is not their
Reliability is restricted: each
researcher conducts the interview
according to their own means
Interpretation can rarely be
verified with the authors
3. It is strongly recommended to utilize the software programs Decision Explorer (previously known as Graphics Cope) developed by Colin Eden
and his team of researchers or CMAP2 designed by Mauri Laukkanen. These programs not only offer the possibility of representing data in the
form of flowcharts or lists, but also completing a certain number of operations on maps.
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 101
consists of breaking the text down into assertions,
which in this example will be the unit of analysis. An
assertion is made up of two concepts between which
we establish a relationship. The relationship may be a
simple association between two concepts (such as in
Diagram 1) or follow the format influencing
concept - > connection - > influenced concept
(Axelrod, 1976). The process therefore consists of
identifying relationships of influence which may be
broken down into five mutually exclusive subcatego-
ries (Cossette and Audet, 1994) (Figure 2).
During the second phase, the fusion of concepts
lies in the standardization of variables. By fusion
process, we mean the grouping of concepts deemed
similar or synonymous and which may figure under
the same identity in a map. The overall approach is to
consider whether or not the respondent would feel
their line of thought had been deformed if two
concepts were fused (Wrightson, 1976). Although
part of the richness of the initial text is necessarily
sacrificed, this phase is no less essential. It means
that the list of concepts can be purified so it is much
clearer and also creates uniformity between the
variables in order to facilitate comparison between
maps. The objective is to achieve distinct groups of
concepts which present strong homogeneity within
each group and strong heterogeneity between groups.
Diagram 2 presents an example of data encoding.
Maps may then be represented with a flowchart
or matrix. The flowchart form describes the map in
the form of a diagram linking concepts via connec-
tions (Diagram 1). It is characterized by being very
easy to read. The matrix form is presented as a two-
column table listing all concepts and connections.
This second format enables various statistical proces-
sing procedures.
Analysis of maps
The analysis of a cognitive map can be achieved
following one of two axes: the structure of the map
or its content.
Damien Chaney 102
Figure 2. The five types of relationships to encode (according to Cossette and Audet, 1994)

--- + --->

--- - --->
Prevents, is detrimental to, interferes with, lessens, hampers,
threatens, reduces, etc.

--- 0 --->

--- = --->
Identity connection

--- e --->
Positive influence connection
Negative influence connection
Neutral influence connection
Has no effect on, does not lead to, etc.
Connection type
Leads to, involves, increases, facilitates,
enables, is necessary for, helps, etc.
Example: drop in price INCREASES sales
Example: price increases REDUCE sales
Example: drop in price HAS NO EFFECT ON brand image
Is equivalent to, is similar to,
is defined as, etc.
Example: brand A products ARE SIMILAR to brand B products
Belonging connection
Is part of, is included in, etc.
Example: communication IS PART OF marketing actions
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 102
Structural analysis of maps
Analyzing the configuration of maps endeavors to
describe the general organization of the map, and
thus concerns its topography (Cossette, 1994). Two
dimensions are explored in particular: the complexity
and the organization of the map.
In order to evaluate the maps complexity, the
literature proposes six quantitative indicators:
(1) The number of variables on the map consists of
determining the number of different concepts the
respondent evoked in relation to the themes in ques-
(2) The number of groups (or clusters) (Cossette,
1989) corresponds to the categorization of all
variables into groups. These groups must form
concentrated clusters of strongly interconnected
variables but the connections linking one group of
variables with another must be minimized (Eden,
Ackermann and Cropper, 1992).
Indicators (1) and (2) provide information on the
maps degree of differentiation (Allard-Poesi,
Drucker-Godard and Ehlinger, 2003). The higher
these indicators are, the more complex and diverse
the map.
(3) The number of connections (Eden,
Ackermann and Cropper, 1992) makes an inventory
of the number of existing relationships between the
concepts present on the map. This does not concern the
nature of the connections, only the quantity.
(4) The number of loops (Axelrod, 1976;
Cossette, 1994) identifies the number of chains of
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 103
Diagram 2. Example of data encoding
Here is a verbatim account taken from a manager of the festival in question:
This being an irregular offer, its difficult for us to create loyalty. We have the responsibility of creating a com-
munity through different vehicles of communication. Everything that happens on our forum is part of our commu-
nication actions.
First step: breaking down of material into concepts whilst preserving the language used by the respondent but
relieving the discourse of all irrelevant terms (Example: everything that happens on our forum becomes festival
Six concepts can be extracted from this paragraph: irregular offer, difficult to create loyalty, responsibility of
creating a community, different vehicles of communication, festival forum, is part of our communication
Second step: seeking the connections of influence between these concepts: clarification of assertions. The ques-
tion one needs to ask for each assertion is: Does it have an influence or is it influenced (even in a neutral way)?
Which concept precedes the other? For example, in the second sentence, contrarily to the order of the sentence, it
is indeed the vehicles of communication which allow a community to be created and not the reverse. In the first sen-
tence, there is an influence connection but this connection is negative: the fact that they are making an irregular
offer has a detrimental effect on the creation of loyalty.
Three relationships of influence have been observed:
Irregular offer Difficult to create loyalty
Different vehicles of communication + Responsibility of creating a community
Festival forum e Our communication actions
Third step: fusion of similar concepts. In order to make the map simpler and clearer, it is necessary to group
together the concepts referring to a single notion under one heading. Thus, the assertions different vehicles of com-
munication and our communication actions are fused into the one term, communication.
After fusion and reorganization of the headings according to the entirety of the discourse collected, we arrive at
three relationships of influence: a negative influence, a positive influence and the connection of belonging:
Irregular offer - > Loyalty
Communication + > Create a community
Festival forum e > Communication
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 103
influence relationships connecting a concept with
(5) Density (Ehlinger, 1996) expresses the num-
ber of variables present on the map in relation to the
number of connections listed.
(6) The relational intensity corresponds to the
relationship between the number of connections
observed and the total number of connections theore-
tically possible given the ensemble of variables figu-
ring on the map.
The quantifiers (3), (4), (5) and (6) are indicators of
the maps degree of interconnection (Allard-Poesi,
Drucker-Godard and Ehlinger, 2003). The higher
they are, the more compact the map.
In terms of the maps organization, evaluating the
relative importance of each concept evoked by the
subject constitutes a key part of the processing invol-
ved in evaluating the maps structural organization:
around which dimensions does the subject organize
their representations (Cosette, 1994)?
It is possible to organize the map spatially accor-
ding to the order in which the concepts appeared in the
discourse (which in this context excludes documenta-
tion methods) as well as according to the strength of
the relationship expressed by the subject. This allows
the distinction to be made between first and second
level representations. Alternatively, a concept may be
considered important if it is connected directly or
indirectly, either as an influencing or influenced factor,
to a large number of other concepts (Bougon, Weick
and Binkhorst, 1977). We call this decomposition of
the material analysis of simple centrality. Together,
Eden, Jones and Sims (1983) developed a more precise
evaluation of the importance of each concept on a
cognitive map: this leads us to a discussion on analysis
of mixed centrality. This measurement is based not
only on the number of variables which influence and
are influenced by each concept, but also integrates
the average length of all the pathways (i.e., all the
branches of the map) linking this concept with
others. For these two processing types, Nozicka,
Bonham and Shapiro (1976) speak more generally of
cognitive centrality. This involves making the key
elements of a subjects discourse clear, not by basing
things on the importance the individual or the resear-
cher seems to understand with regard to certain
variables, but according to an indicator of concepts
centrality in the organization of the discourse.
It is also possible to conduct an analysis of
influence factors, i.e., of influencing factors and
influenced factors. By influencing factor, we unders-
tand one which acts, or which can be a way of acting,
on the phenomena described on the map. This also
constitutes an explanation of these phenomena
(Cossette, 1989). Influenced factors represent conse-
quences or objectives to be attained. An example of
structural analysis of cognitive maps is presented in
Diagram 3.
These criteria of evaluation are largely dependent
upon the method of construction used for the map in
question, the level of fusion that has been carried out
and the general context of the research.
Consequently, they may only be utilized and compared
within the context of a single research study, or even
within a single map construction method, on the
condition that the latter be well documented so as to be
certain these criteria do indeed refer to the same
thing (Allard-Poesi, 1997).
Content analysis of maps
Analyzing the content of maps involves looking
at their constituent elements. The distinction is made
between quantitative methods which allow maps to
be compared and qualitative methods which give
meaning to specific elements on the map.
In order to compare maps, three types of quantita-
tive procedures may be carried out.
Non-linear principal component analyses
(Diagram 4): principal component analysis (PCA) is a
descriptive technique which studies the relationships
between variables. It aims to identify the structure of
dependence between multivariable observations in
order to obtain a description or a compact representa-
tion of the latter (Jolliffe, 1986). In concrete terms,
PCA constitutes a linear orthogonal projection tech-
nique which projects the multi-dimensional observa-
tions represented in a subspace of dimension M (M is
the number of variables observed) in a subspace of a
lower dimension (L < M) whilst maximizing the
variance of the projections (Harkat, 2003).
However, if the data to be processed are non-linear,
PCA is incapable of finding a compact representation
to describe these data. An extension of principal
component analysis has been developed to deal with
non-linear problems (Gnanadesikan, 1977; Kramer,
1991). This generalization is characterized by projec-
tion of data onto curves or surfaces rather than exclu-
Damien Chaney 104
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 104
sively onto straight flat lines. Principal component
analysis is thus capable of simultaneously processing
ordinal, nominal and continuous data (Meulman,
1996). It enables us to evaluate the semantic similarity
(Ferrandi and Valette-Florence, 2002) between
respondents on the basis of the connections identi-
Distance measurements: applied to proximity
matrixes and based on Euclidean distances, distance
measurements compare the influence connections
term to term from two maps (Langfield-Smith and
Wirth, 1992). Distance measurements are therefore
primarily useful for structured data collection
methods, and benefit from the same space of freedom
predefined by the researcher according to their objec-
tives. In the opposite situation, i.e., for non-structu-
red data collection methods where the subjects
express themselves freely, the researcher does not
possess measurements of each mental representation
according to the same dimensions (Allard-Poesi,
1996) and it is therefore preferable to favor the
notion of similarity rather than distance.
Similarity measurements (Diagram 5): similarity
indices examine the points in common and the points
of divergence between maps. Pragmatically spea-
king, this concerns the surface ratio of the intersection
of two maps on the surface represented by their
union (Allard-Poesi, 1996). These indices fall
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 105
Diagram 3. Example of structural analysis of cognitive maps
Here is a cognitive map of a manager of the festival in question:
Complexity of the map:
Number of concepts = 21; Number of groups = 1 (the map is not highly differentiated); Number of connections
= 23; Number of loops = 3 (example of loop: selection of featuring artists allows us to differentiate ourselves, dif-
ferentiation reduces competition and competition reduces selection of featuring artists); Density = 1.10;
Relational Intensity = 0.10. The map is not highly differentiated but is very compact.
Structuring of the map:
The Domain analysis from Decision Explorer indicates that the three central concepts of the map are:
selection of featuring artists, competition and differentiating oneself from other festivals.
The Heads analysis from Decision Explorer indicates that the two most influenced concepts of the map are:
musical eclecticism and the balance between known artists and musical niches. This means that these are, in the
representations of this organizer, objectives to reach.
The Tails analysis from Decision Explorer indicates that the most influential concepts of the map prove to be
rather negative for the festival (small number of bill toppers, budget, and identical functioning methods between fes-
tivals). These constitute obstacles in managing the festival.
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 105
within the perspective of topological analysis and are
established on the basis of a matrix called complete
disjunctive table (Chandon and Pinson, 1981). This
matrix summarizes, in the form of a table, the
ensemble of data (concepts and connections) found on a
cognitive map. The information contained in this table
takes the form of binary data. 1 signifies the pre-
sence of a concept or connection in the cognitive map in
individual I. 0 indicates the non-utilization of a
concept or connection in the cognitive map in individual
I. A table is established for each subject questioned.
On the basis of these matrixes, indices of similarity
for binary data can be calculated (Table 3). These
indices are presented in the form of similarities S but
may also be expressed in the form of dissimilarities.
Generally speaking, if I and J are two entries in the
table, we note a) the number of 1s common to I and J,
b) the number of 1s for I which correspond to 0s for
J, c) the number of 1s for J which correspond to 0s
for I and d) the number of 0s common to I and J. The
presence or absence of the term D allows us to distin-
guish between these indicators according to two orders.
Damien Chaney 106
Diagram 4. Example of content analysis non-linear principal component analysis
This involves verifying that the festival managers studied fall into the same semantic group. The mental
representations of managers of another festival were therefore compared with the representations of the festival
studied. All previously encoded connections are rewritten in the form influencing concept > connection >
influenced concept (Axelrod, 1976). These connections have been categorized in the following way: 1 (the
connection is evoked by the respondent but in reverse), 2 (the connection is not evoked by the respondent) and
3 (the connection is evoked by the respondent). The objective here is to use a spline transformation of this ordi-
nal data to maximize the correlation between each element evaluated [the connections] and the dimensions
retained in the analysis (Ferrandi and Valette-Florence, 2002). The analysis of semantic equivalence is very
good because just three dimensions allow 58.841% of the total variance to be reconstructed.
The typological analysis shows that the four members of the second festival do indeed belong to the same
class (class 1). For the festival studied, the results are more subtle, given that two members, A and B, seem close
to the first group while the other two members, C and D, seem to form a separate group.
A typological analysis based on the factor scores obtained then enables managers to be categorized
according to their cognitive proximity. We have restricted the typology to 2 groups in order to verify that we do
indeed find the two festivals belonging to the individuals.
Proper value Percentage of variance Cronbachs Alpha
(after transformation into continuous data)
Dimension 1 33.453 22.913 0.977
Dimension 2 28.889 19.787 0.972
Dimension 3 23.567 16.142 0.964
Total 85.908 58.841 0.995
Respondent Typology result Effective belonging
A 1 Festival studied
B 1 Festival studied
C 2 Festival studied
D 2 Festival studied
E 1 Other festival
F 1 Other festival
G 1 Other festival
H 1 Other festival
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 106
The selection of an index and whether or not the
researcher decides to take co-absences into considera-
tion depends upon their initial objective. To simplify,
structured collection methods, where the respondent
chooses from amongst a preselected ensemble of
variables, are more likely to require indices which
take co-absences into account whilst non-structured
methods would most likely use indices which do not
integrate co-absences. The weight given to different
terms also depends upon the objectives of the study. If
the aim of the study is to highlight shared mental
representations, it would be preferable to favor
indices which accentuate points in common, notably
Dice indices and Sokal and Sneath 2 indices. If,
however, the research aims rather to accentuate the
differences between individuals, it would be more
advantageous to choose an index which gives greater
weight to non-shared concepts and connections, i.e.,
Sokal and Sneath and Rogers and Tanimoto indices,
for example.
However, No matter which method is favored,
the exclusive use of quantitative criteria to evaluate
the importance of a variable is unsatisfactory in the
context of representing a schema (Cossette and
Audet, 1992). For a much more qualitative view-
point, Laukkanen (1994) proposes to carry out a
domain analysis. The principle consists of selecting a
sub-part of the map deemed pertinent by the researcher
and carrying out a more detailed analysis on it:
which concepts are influencing the selected element?
Which variables are influenced by this element? Etc.
Another qualitative analysis method of the
content of maps consists of having one or two
experts evaluate maps to judge the similarity between
them (Daniels, Gerry and De Chernatony, 2002).
This technique has a strong artificial character and
proves restrictive for evaluators who are required to
comment on a large number of cognitive maps.
Furthermore, the fact that two maps are deemed simi-
lar does not actually provide very much information at
all (Hodgkinson, 2002): what exactly is similar about
them? Which points of the map do the similarities
refer to? In order to overcome these shortcomings,
Chaney (2008) proposes to translate the map in a lite-
rary sense by using the typology of connections pro-
posed by Cossette and Audet (1994) (Figure 2) and
then to submit the questionnaire obtained to the eva-
luator. In this way, the encoded connections (for
example: communication + > create a commu-
nity) will be rewritten in the form of a text (in this
case: communication allows a community to be crea-
ted) and the evaluator must then give his or her
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 107
Table 3. Main similarity indices
Similarity indices not accounting
for co-absences
Similarity indices accounting
for co-absences
Index Definition Index Definition
Jaccard index S k/k = a / (a + b + c) Sokal and Michener index
S k/k = (a + d) / (a + b + c
+ d)
Dices index S k/k = 2a / (2a + b + c) Rogers and Tanimoto index
S k/k = (a + d) / (a + 2b +
2c + d)
Sokal and Sneath index S k/k = a / (a + 2b +2c) Sokal and Sneath 2 index
S k/k = (2a + 2d) / (2a + b
+ c + 2d)
Kulzinskys index
S k/k = (a / a + b) + (a / a +
Yules index
S k/k = (ad - bc) / (ad +
Ochia index
S k/k = a / [(a + b)(a +
Ochia index
S k/k = a / [(a + b)(a
+c)(c + d)(b + d)]
Russel and Rao index S k/k = a / (a + b + c + d)
Where K and K are two maps to be compared and S k/k the degree of similarity between the maps K and K, a the number of concepts or
connections common to K and K, b and c the number of concepts or connections included either only in K, or only in K and d the number of
concepts or connections from all maps to be compared but appearing in neither K or K.
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 107
Damien Chaney 108
Diagram 5. Example of content analysis similarity between maps
Two simplified maps of two managers of the festival studied: map Y and map Z:
Map Y (9 concepts and 8 connections):
Map Z (11 concepts and 10 connections):
The question is to find out the degree of similarity between these two maps. Jaccards index is utilized: S Y/Z=
a / (a+b+c) = 5 / 33 = 0.15 where:
a: Number of concepts and connections common to Y and Z = 4 concepts (competition, selection of featuring
artists, festivals potential audience and differentiating ourselves from other festivals) and 1 connection (selection
of featuring artists + > differentiating ourselves). The two maps associate the concepts of competition and
differentiation from other festivals. However, the connection between these concepts is different (for Y: competi-
tion - > differentiating ourselves from other festivals and for Z: differentiating ourselves from other festivals
- > competition), therefore this can not be counted as a common element.
b: number of concepts and connections proper to Y = 5 concepts and 7 connections
c: number of concepts and connections proper to Z = 7 concepts and 9 connections
This type of calculation is worthwhile when working with a large number of maps as the indices may then be
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 108
degree of agreement with each statement on a scale
from 1 to 7. The points of convergence and diver-
gence will then be immediately interpretable. The
possibilities offered by this solution are many, parti-
cularly in terms of consumers evaluation of mana-
gers cognitive maps: do consumers agree with the
statements made by the managers of organizations
they frequent (Chaney, 2008)?
The qualitative and quantitative methods utilized
for processing and analyzing cognitive maps
mutually complement and enrich each other, lending
greater validity to results (Flick, 2002). However, a
critical discussion of the method and the way it is
used must be envisaged.
This discussion must allow us to question the
scientificity of research projects using cognitive
mapping. We will first look at the criteria for the
reliability and validity of the instrument before
addressing the more central question of the methods
appropriateness in relation to the theory in terms of
the relationships between mental representations and
behavior on the one hand and between representa-
tions and the cognitive map on the other.
Reliability and validity:
criteria for the scientificity of the instrument
The question of the measurement instruments
scientificity is raised for each individual research
project. Where the instrument is quantitative,
recourse to an ensemble of statistical tests enables
the validity and reliability of the tool to be establi-
shed very firmly. Where a qualitative approach is
being used, the procedure must be modified and
several precautions taken (Drucker-Godard, Ehlinger
and Grenier, 2003).
A measurement instrument is considered reliable if
it allows different observers at different times to
obtain the same results with the same instrument
(Evrard, Pras and Roux, 2003). More specifically,
with relation to cognitive mapping in particular, Huff
(1990) affirms that its reliability is measured by the
quality of the work delivered by the researcher. It is
through the researchers own rigorousness that other
researchers will be able to understand and reproduce
the method used and obtain identical results. It is
necessary to proceed to a highly detailed explanation
of all the steps involved in the methodological protocol
employed. Of these steps, encoding is of prime
importance. To ensure the reliability of the encoding,
Weber (1990) proposes three criteria: stability (to
what extent is the same researcher able to obtain a
similar encoding of the data at different times?), pre-
cision (proximity between the encoding achieved and a
standard, where the standard has been established)
and reproducibility, also known as intercoder reliability
(to what extent can two or more people arrive at the
same data encoding?). Intercoder reliability can be
evaluated by Cohens Kappa and, within the context of
cognitive mapping, is established with regard to two
The assertions to the encoded (Miles and
Huberman, 2003): number of agreements/(total
number of agreements + disagreements);
The categorization of concepts (Axelrod, 1976):
(2*number of agreements)/total number of
encodings by both coders.
Given the amount of work involved in such an
operation, double encoding generally only examines
one part of the text selected by the researcher. When
the documents serving as a basis for the encoding
first come out of the interviews, by nature fairly
unstructured and often not directly revealing the
means/ends connections, agreement rates of 70% are
generally considered satisfactory. To assist the external
coders in their task, it is possible to draw up an enco-
ding manual according to the specific features of the
empirical field in question so as to provide a more
concrete framework for the coders role (definition of
analysis units, identification of concepts and links
and fusion process of similar variables).
In terms of validity, one must endeavor to find out
if there has been complete access to the knowledge
and interpretations of the subjects. For Laukkanen
(1992), three levels of validity must be considered.
First, do the data collected reflect the sincere and
authentic thoughts of the subject? As was confirmed
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 109
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 109
by Cossette and Audet (1994), the subject may have a
tendency not to reveal exactly what they think. It is
therefore necessary to build up a relationship of trust
with the respondent so that they express themselves
as freely as possible (Cossette, 1994). Second, are
the data collected pertinent to the problem in ques-
tion? The choice of data collection method is a crucial
consideration for this element. Finally, do the data
collected represent the reality we wish to observe,
the theories in use in the organization? The inter-
view guide must be centered on the subjects daily
experience and real preoccupations (Allard-Poesi,
1997). The protocol must be practical and flexible so
that it is acceptable and does not irritate the subjects,
which can reduce the quality of the material collected.
To respond to the reproach concerning subjecti-
vity aimed at qualitative methods (Miles and
Huberman, 2003), a field diary containing the resear-
chers impressions after each interview may be main-
tained. It is also essential to minimize the effect of
contamination. The subjects contacted must not be
aware of the exact theme of the interview in order to
minimize the risk of discussions between future
respondents prior to interviewing. What is more, the
validation of the map by the subject himself ensures
that what has been recorded and translated in the
form of maps does indeed correspond to the thoughts
of the individual being interviewed (Eden, 1992).
The external validity, which, based on a restricted
number of observations, consists of extending the
results to other populations, places and periods of
time, in this context stands as proof of an in-depth
knowledge of the field of investigation in order to
justify the comparisons put in place and demonstrate
the results with precision (Drucker-Godard, Ehlinger
and Grenier, 2003).
The representation-behavior connection
Psychologists (Denis, 1989) and psycho-sociolo-
gists (Jodelet, 1984) acknowledge the role of mental
representations in action. The cognitive map, because
it captures the representations of an individual at a
particular point in time, enables us to predict beha-
vior. However, stating that individuals cognition and
their acts are directly and exclusively linked is deba-
table (Eden, 1992). It is possible to be interested in a
persons behavior without taking into consideration
their emotions or their affective experience.
In addition, as Rodhain (1997) observes, the
connection between thought and behavior is far from
being a simple causal relationship. For cognitive psy-
chologists, it is thought which induces action. Man is a
rational being capable of thinking and taking the
multiple possibilities open to him into consideration
and acting accordingly. Others, on the contrary, feel
that it is action which precedes thought. This is notably
the case for Festinger (1957) and his model of cogni-
tive dissonance or Beauvois and Joule (1981) and
their model of submission. For Festinger, when per-
sons realize their behavior are in contradiction with
their thoughts, they are plunged into a stressful state of
anxiety. It is through thought that the individuals may
be able to come out of this state of stress and find
some internal coherence between their actions and
their ideas. Beauvois and Joule state that man does
not act according to his thoughts, but thinks accor-
ding to the acts circumstances led him to (Beauvois,
1995). Rather than making a choice between these
two antinomic positions, Rodhain (1997) prefers to
understand the thought/action relationship as a cyclical
one in the sense that both elements are constantly
and mutually influencing each other. For Wagner
(1994), empirical studies which aim to advance the
hypothesis of a causal relationship between mental
representations as an independent variable and beha-
vior as a dependent variable are very open to criti-
cism. These demonstrations would be tautological,
given that behaviors and representations are part of
the same ensemble and illustrate a single phenome-
non: the connection in question is not causality but
rather stability.
The cognitive map:
a representation of a representation
Finally, there is a need to move away from the
idea of a direct and perfect access to an individuals
mental representations. A cognitive map is a graphical
representation of mental representations the resear-
cher holds of an ensemble of discursive representa-
tions evoked by a subject based on their own cognitive
representations, with regard to a particular object
(Cossette and Audet, 1994). Even if the essence of an
individuals cognition on a given subject can be captu-
red by the instrument, the original mental representa-
tions are subject to triple filtering (Rodhain, 1997)
Damien Chaney 110
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 110
(Figure 3). In order to have access to someones
thoughts, it is essential to get them to express them-
selves. It is impossible to know what they are thin-
king without asking them. The act of verbalizing, the
language itself constitutes the first filter [a].
Projective methods, such as that developed by
Zaltman (1997a), are therefore worthwhile in this
respect. The researcherthen necessarily interprets
their subjects discourse. This is the second filter [b].
Finally, the cognitive map models the entirety of this
process with a graphical representation. Yet, a model is
by definition different from the object modeled [c].
Laroche and Nioche (1994) underline the tendency to
reify cognition: however, cognitive maps are only
metaphors and are unable to account for all the com-
plexity and features of mental representations. What is
more, as previously mentioned, the method is unable
to differentiate between a relationship of cause and
effect and one of means and ends.
Constructing a map also involves numerous feed-
back processes ([1], [2], [3], [4] and [5]) which help
the discourse and thoughts of each participant
evolve. We will therefore speak of a circular repre-
sented/representation relationship (Rodhain, 1997).
All these elements lead us to define cognitive
mapping in the following way: a material representa-
tion (flowchart or matrix) of the mental representa-
tions of an individual on a particular theme at a given
moment in time. These representations pass through
three filters; the representations of the researcher, the
discourse of the subject and the material representa-
tion, which influence one another mutually throu-
ghout the entirety of a complex and circular process.
Cognitive maps appear to be powerful tools
which allow us to understand the representations of
Analyzing Mental Representations: The Contribution of Cognitive Maps 111
[3] [1]
Subjects discursive
Cognitive map
Figure 3. The filters and circularities of access to representations through cognitive mapping
(according to Rodhain, 1997)
05Chaney (GB) 7/03/11 11:39 Page 111
an individual on a particular theme at a given
moment in time in the form of maps. Cossette (1994)
evokes the famous adage: a picture paints a thou-
sand words. The technique enables the structure and
content of the maps to be analyzed, from both a
quantitative and qualitative point of view, thus ope-
ning up a large range of possibilities to the resear-
Before presenting the different stages of
constructing a map, we felt it important to go back
over the notion of mental representations and its
value in the field of marketing. This allowed us to
place cognitive mapping in context alongside other
mental representation techniques, notably content
analysis. Cognitive mapping is able not only to show
the content of a subjects discourse, but also to reveal
its structure. The researcher must nonetheless keep
certain limitations relevant to this technique in mind,
notably the link between reality and representation.
If the cognitive mapping tool has not been extensi-
vely utilized in marketing, it is partly because of its
strong association with organizations cognitive
approach, and partly because it is difficult to imple-
ment. The objective of this article was therefore not
only to present the process of constructing maps, a
process which we have illustrated with various
examples, but also to show the potential contribu-
tions this method may make to marketing resear-
The illustration evoked here has focused on the
professionals point of view: we were interested in
observing the place the consumer holds in the mental
representations of an organizations managers. The
cognitive mapping technique may also be used to
understand the representations of consumers.
According to Olson and Muderrisoglu (1979), deter-
mining the content and organization of consumers
knowledge requires the relationships and structures
of their cognition to be identified, which cognitive
maps are able to do. Comparing consumers cogni-
tive complexity (by studying the number of variables,
groups, connections, loops, density and relational
intensity of maps) with regard to several product
categories could, for example, provide explanations
for behavior related to seeking different information.
Studying the central concepts (analysis of simple and
mixed centrality) and influence relationships (identifi-
cation of influencing and influenced concepts) in
play in an individuals purchasing process may go
some way to enriching consumer behavior theory.
For the launch of new products, the mental represen-
tations captured in cognitive maps may enable us to
understand the associations made by the consumer
and to predict whether or not the innovation, taking
their mental acceptance into consideration, has a
chance of establishing itself. In the context of stu-
dying brand communities, highlighting the degrees
of cognitive similarity (by calculating similarity
indices) or semantic proximity (using a non-linear
principal component analysis) which exist between
consumers of the same brand would be another inter-
esting line of research. This comparison of the repre-
sentations of distinct groups could have applications
particularly in terms of segmentation. Furthermore,
analyzing the mental representations concerning a
certain brand (Aaker, 1996; Keller, 2003) using
cognitive maps, both in terms of analysis and structu-
ring of discourse, should enable the mechanisms
employed for brand extension to be refined (Michel,
1999). These different areas of research, far from
representing an exhaustive panorama of the possibili-
ties, are merely examples of what may capture the
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