COGNITIVE-AFFECTIVE MAPS (CAM)

Cognitive-Affective Maps are one of the primary tools of the Ideological Conflict Project. They depict the content of belief systems in a way that reflects how brains function, where the activation of one concept leads to the activation of another according to a characteristic pattern. Cognitive maps have already been in use for some time to representing beliefs as sets of connected concepts, allowing one to recognize distinct patterns in decision making. Cognitive-affective maps are different in that they depict the emotions attached to each concept, and the importance of emotion in determining how concepts are connected.

Cognitive-Affective Maps are one of the primary tools of the Ideological Conflict Project. They depict the content of belief systems in a way that reflects how brains function, where the activation of one concept leads to the activation of another according to a characteristic pattern. Cognitive maps have already been in use for some time to representing beliefs as sets of connected concepts, allowing one to recognize distinct patterns in decision making. Cognitive-affective maps are different in that they depict the emotions attached to each concept, and the importance of emotion in determining how concepts are connected.

How and when to use a CAM

How and when to use a CAM

Before starting, a person constructing a CAM must, of course, have an initial body of evidence from which inferences about the subject’s beliefs and emotions can be drawn. This evidence might initially be no more than personal experience with the subject that allows the development of a provisional hypothesis about the subject’s beliefs. But one of the benefits of this method is that it allows for input from a convergence of varied empirical sources. Maps could be drawn from through an analysis of texts, or they can be used as a way of visually coding survey or interview data.  They can even be drawn by subjects themselves. And there is no reason why a single CAM cannot be drawn using a combination of such sources.

CAMs can be used as practical tools in negotiation or mediation of disputes. They can help mediators to quickly identify what is most important to disputing parties about a given conflict, and how the disputants perceived key stakes. They can also be used as part of a mediation exercise where participants are taught this simple language, then asked to provide depictions of how they perceive both their and the other’s understanding of the conflict.  These can then be compared in order to clarify positions and resolve misconceptions, and identify common and conflicting values. CAM’s emphasis on emotion could help disputants focus on values rather than their positions, enhance empathy for the other party’s circumstances, and thereby strengthen the joint motivation to produce mutually respectful solutions.

CAMs can also be used to clarify why certain concepts come to be emotionally loaded to the point where they become flashpoints for conflict. They enable us to visually depict how concepts that may seem innocuous to one person will acquire existential significance to another, giving us a means to theorize how new concepts or changes to the valences attached to concepts might effect the system as a whole by initiating a cascade of follow-on changes. Such a tool can be used to predict how events might serve to trigger otherwise unpredictable violent reactions among groups of people who hold to certain beliefs, as well as what interventions might be appropriate to effect positive changes to ameliorate violence.

Decoding the CAM

Ovals represent emotionally positive (pleasurable) concepts
Hexagons represent emotionally negative (painful) concepts
Rectangles represent concepts that are emotionally neutral
• A superimposed Oval and Hexagon indicates ambivalence; a single concept that can generate simultaneous or alternating positive and negative emotions.
• The thickness of the shape represents the relative strength of the positive or negative value associated with it
• If colour is available, Ovals are green (go), Hexagons are red (stop), Rectangles are yellow, and superimposed Ovals/Hexagons are purple.
Solid lines represent coherent or mutually supportive relations,
Dashed lines represent relations between concepts that are incoherent or opposed,
• The thickness of the line indicates the strength of the emotional relation.

image of a Sample CAM

Why use a CAM?

CAM enables us to treat ideas as units of data that can therefore be factored in to rational assessments of behaviour as much as are more measurable material objects. A theory about what is going on in people’s minds can be shown as more than just guesswork. Rather, each concept and each connection between concepts becomes a specific claim that can be tested against a body of empirical evidence.

CAM can illustrate the centrality of emotion to any rational decision process. While deep understanding often requires a conception of emotion that goes beyond positive versus negative valence (this method alone cannot, for example, draw out the vast and often significant differences between the positive emotions of, say, happiness, pride, exuberance, contentment, arousal, etc.; or the negative emotions of anger, hate, jealousy, disgust, frustration, contempt, and so on), this simple one-dimensional representation of emotions can capture a great deal of a dispute’s emotional complexity, and therefore its essential character, by depicting the importance of overall cognitive and emotional coherence to the functioning and stability of a belief system.

Coherence is crucial to problem solving or decision making. For a belief system to be stable, each activation in the cognitive-affective network must be logically and/or emotionally associated with the next in a pattern that maintains the system in an overall state of coherence. If it is not, the system will adjust until it is. Therefore, if new information is introduced in the form of new concepts, new links between concepts, or changes to the valences attributed to existing concepts, additional changes will follow until the resulting network is again coherent. Ideological change therefore involves simultaneous changes to several concepts and connections, restructuring the network so as to maintain coherence at the system level.

CAM thus provides researchers with a deeper “insider” appreciation of a belief system; how it “feels” to a person holding it; how it affects that person’s perception of the world, and how it might translate into action. It can show how a notion or symbolic attachment that may seem nonsensical to outsiders or out of sync with objective reality can be remarkably powerful and durable to those that possess it; integral, as it is, to the overall coherence of the system. And it enables us to theorize how changes to that system—such as exposure to new concepts—might impact this coherence with otherwise unpredictable results; for example, by locating points of weakness where a seemingly small change to one concept might trigger a cascade of changes to the system as a whole.

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