Research methods (2): Mental mapping

1. What is a mental map?

mental map (also called a cognitive map) is a personal visualization of spatial information.

Mental mapping is the representation of an individual or group’s cognitive map, hand sketched and/or computer- assisted, in drafting and labeling a map or adding to and labeling an already existing map. Mental mapping is a way of visually speaking through places what words alone cannot articulate.

A mental map is an individual’s own internal map – incomplete, biased and personal- of their known world.

Internal maps often combine factual information with judgments or subjective interpretations. Mental maps include knowledge of landmarks, route connections, distance and direction relations, as well as non-spatial attributes and emotional associations.

Case Study:

Here are two examples of mental maps from a website created by Rachelle Annechino and Yo-Shang Cheng as part of their Masters project on ‘Visualizing Mental Maps of San Francisco ’ (2011):



Bourneman, E. ‘What are mental maps?’, Geolounge,


  • The content of this volume was adapted from Peake, L. 2018. Presentation at the ‘Workshop in Urban Feminist Research: Ethnographic Research Tools’, Ramallah, Palestine, July 2018.
  • J.J. 2013. Where We Go From Here: The Mental Sketch Mapping Method and Its Analytic Components. Qualitative Inquiry. 19(9), pp. 712–724.
  • Journal of Cultural Geography. 2018. Theme issue: ‘Mental maps: geographical and historical perspectives’, 35 (2).
  • Ben-Ze’ev, E. 2015. Blurring the Geo-Body: Mental Maps of Israel / Palestine. The Middle East Journal, 69 (2): 237-S30.