Fuzzy Cognitive Maps (FCM) have found favor in a variety of theoretical and applied contexts that span the hard and soft sciences. Given the utility and flexibility of the method, coupled with the broad appeal of FCM to a variety of scientific disciplines, FCM have been appropriated in many different ways and, depending on the academic discipline in which it has been applied, used to draw a range of conclusions about the belief systems of individuals and groups. Although these cognitive maps have proven useful as a method to systematically collect and represent knowledge, questions about the cognitive theories which support these assumptions remain. Detailed instructions about how to interpret FCM, especially in terms of collective knowledge and the construction of FCM by non-traditional ‘experts’, are also currently lacking. Drawing from the social science literature and the recent application of FCM as a tool for collaborative decision-making, in this chapter we attempt to clarify some of these ambiguities. Specifically, we address a number of theoretical issues regarding the use of Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping to represent individual “mental models” as well as their usefulness for comparing and characterizing the aggregated beliefs and knowledge of a community.
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