Water Resources Management

, Volume 26, Issue 10, pp 2991–3004 | Cite as

Water Cognition and Cognitive Affective Mapping: Identifying Priority Clusters Within a Canadian Water Efficiency Community

  • S. E. Wolfe


We often assume that researchers and decision-makers are rational beings reliant on hard data to determine the best policy. But individuals are also influenced by their experiences with their physical and social environments. How they perceive and interact with their environment is also important for decision-making. The brain processes these personal and professional experiences to generate the emotional responses and belief systems used to interpret environments. It is these brain-environment interpretation and coding, storage and recall functions that provide the different mental representations used for ongoing interactions with the world. Social psychologists, anthropologists, behavioural geographers and environmental sociologists have extensive theoretical and empirical mechanisms to investigate how this processing shifts from an individual level to the social level. It is this interplay between individuals’ cognitive processing and emotion, along with group decision-making about water policy, that is the basis for a water cognition framework. How to test and evaluate a water cognition framework is the challenge. Cognitive affective mapping (CAM)—as both a process and product—offers one possible mechanism. Cognitive affective maps (CAMs) can be used for data collection, analysis and a communication medium. These roles allow the researcher to articulate individuals’ deep emotions and values within a water community or network. The design and process can reveal how a community’s values, beliefs and norms have changed over time and what potential exists for addressing embedded innovation barriers within a water governance context. To explore these ideas, this paper includes a brief review of the evolving cognitive affective sciences literature as the basis for the water cognition framework, a methodology description of cognitive affective mapping and discussion of results from a Canadian water efficiency community.


Affect Barriers-to-implementation Beliefs Canada Cognitive science Decision-making Water efficiency Emotion Governance Knowledge management Pro-environmental behaviour Water Water cognition 



The author thanks the anonymous reviewers for their detailed comments on an earlier draft and the Ontario water efficiency community. The Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the International Development Research Centre supported portions of this research.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environment and Resource StudiesUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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