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Idea Maps: Theory and Evidence

The mind works associatively - integrating and synthesising added information to what is already in it by mental associations or by brain networking. Mind maps are cognitive maps, ideas presented as keynotes and keywords that branch out from a central field, and get more or less interconnected. You can find such mapping used in medical textbooks, for example. (McDermott and Clarke, 1998)

Concept maps may be more formal or finished products. Concepts, concept links, hierarchies, cross-links and examples are the components of concept maps. (Li-Ling, 2004)

Mind maps or similar displays have been used for centuries to aid visual thinking and problem solving.

Cognitive maps can produce fused concepts and blended ones too.

Memory Related

Learning is to some extent had by memoring things.

What enters the LTM (long-term memory) may not be represented visually at all. Yet some visual displays can help form key associations and serve as memory pegs.

Material that enters the LTM (long-term memory), is encoded, which is facilitated through organisation, elaboration, meaningfulness and links with schema structures.

Meaningfulness is central for memory, in that we register and activate meanings. Information needs to be clearly comprehended to be recalled fairly well.

Imaginal representation can be developed in persons of any age.

The cues above fit concept maps and other arenas suited to spatial intelligence - or maps. (Schunk 2008, 172-81, passim)

LTM tackles core meanings, essentials. Keynotes and maps of keynotes helps in processing items into one's LTM, basically.

Maybe those who recall very well, do not need maps to organise and remember by.

Means of improving memory?

Learning is in part a question of remembering things. Memory is aided by meaning, and meanings are either helped by visual impressions or fragments of being told. LTM has a preferred code for verbal material (meaning), but other codes can be used too. The better we understand items, the more we remember. And the better retrieval cues (to associate with a thing) available, the better our memory, roughly said.

We may improve our memory by getting better at encoding and retrieval. Mental images have been found to be particularly useful for connecting pairs of unrelated items. [Smith et al, 2003, 266-309, passim]

Graphics, visual display such as imagesn help LTM, which centres on essentials, including meanings, predominantly

Without Mind Maps - All Wrong?

A Boieng Aircraft engineering manual was condensed into a 25-foot long Mind Map, to enable a team of 100 senor aeronautical engineers to learn in a few weeks what had previously taken a few years. The result was an estimated saving of $11 million. (Buzan and Buzan 1995, 171)

That is another sweet tales about benefits of mind maps and other cognitive maps need to be checked at a quite wide berth:

  1. The single tale is anecdotal evidence, and as such carries very little "proof power", or weight.
  2. People have different approaches to learning.
  3. Persons differ in how their intelligence goes. For example, an IQ test measures a limited set of human talents, including verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, visual thinking and logical problem solving. An expanded version is called the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, version III (WAIS-III); it produces 'general intelligence' by trying to assess 13 mental faculties such as arithmetic, sequencing, vocabulary and processing speed. The test has its limitations. Also, Howard Gardner speaks of intelligence modalities, such as: musical-rhythmic and harmonic; visual-spatial; verbal-linguistic; logical-mathematical; bodily-kinesthetic; interpersonal; intrapersonal; naturalistic; existential. (also see Sternberg and Kaufman 2011, 485)

    On the downside (at least so far) of Gardner's propositions are lack of empirical evidence and dependence on subjective judgement. "Descriptions of the eight intelligences that comprise MI theory relied upon the domains or disciplines in which one typically finds individuals who demonstrate high levels of each intelligence. This is because we do not yet have psychometric or neuroimaging techniques that directly assess an individualís capacity for a particular intelligence." (Ibid., 487)

A psychosometric test is based on an arbitrary and restricted set of criteria. The theory of multiple intelligences expands the concept of intelligence by stating that there are many ways to be intelligent. There are many theories of intelligence and other concepts of multiple intelligences. Thus, different ways of seeing intelligence(s) result in articles and books marked by figuring and assessment lacks, but not all over.

Instead of asking, 'How clever are you?' (IQ), we may now ask, 'How are you clever?' (MI). Fleetham 2007, 18-20)

The need to decide who is and who is not clever has long roots far back into antiquity. The Buddhist teaching-poem Dhammapada speaks of fools in chapter five and of wise persons in chapter six, and the delineations do not end with these two chapters either. Examples in John Richards' translation:

Buddhic Fools of little understanding have themselves for their greatest enemies, for they do evil deeds which must bear bitter fruits. (v. 66)

That deed is well done of which a man does not repent, and the reward of which he receives gladly and cheerfully. (v. 68)

If you see an intelligent man who tells you where true treasures are to be found, who shows what is to be avoided, and administers reproofs, follow that wise man; it will be better, not worse, for those who follow him. (v. 76)

Wise people fashion themselves [but not unwisely]. (v. 80)

Few are there among men who arrive at the other shore (become Arhats); the other people here run up and down the shore. (v. 85)

And so on.

As for the cognitive maps, they appear to relate to spatial intelligence quite naturally. And since there are other intelligence outlets or forms (above), maps may not be good help for all kinds of people.

Overoptimism could sell well

  • Buzan says the mind map utilises the full range of left and right human cortical skills. This "hemispheric specialization theory (that Buzan speaks of) has been identified as pseudoscientific when it comes to mind mapping".
  • in Make the Most of Your Mind (1988, 1), Buzan claims that 99% of the brain is unused. The claim is wrong, at least in the light of brain research. We use far more than 10 percent of our grey matter. [Evidence].
  • Buzan also claims that similar shapes between brain networks and mind maps make mind mips excellent for learning. This idea resembles the "signature" notion, which used irrational similarities between plants and plant lives and those of humans as keys to the uses of plants, through some "like cures like" or the other way round. Sarah Garland explains that "the 'doctrine of similars' or 'signatures' . . . used the appearance or character of the plant as a clue to its use as a medical treatment . . . This premise was carried to great lengths . . . [A]n Italian called Giambattista Porta . . . made exaggerated claims for the signature doctrine, insisting that plants with short lives would shorten the lives of men, and that those with curved, jointed shoots would cure scorpion stings." (2004, 9)

Buzan has some marketing claims that are plainly invalid, and some that at best are dubious. What is needed is research that documents the said, very good effects of the mind maps. Till now there is evidence of a slight improvement, and of problems with keeping up one's motivation to use mind maps after having learnt how to make them.

Mind maps are a sort of graphic organisers for bringing together amounts of information, combining spatial organisation, hierarchical structuring and more. The mind map is not equally suited to all learning tasks, though.

Just drawing a mind map and not using it may be only so-so as study help. It could help to discern between various aspects of mind maps too.

Producing mind maps and LTM items or "chunks" - mark the difference between means and goals.


Mind-mapping - that note-taking variant - improves the average learning efficiency with up to 15% over conventional note taking, it has been suggested (Farrand, Hussain, and Hennessy 2002). They found that the mind map technique had a limited but significant impact on recall in undergraduate students - a 10% increase over baseline for a 600-word text as compared to preferred study methods with a 6% decrease over baseline). This improvement was only robust after a week. Regardless, the researchers concluded, "Mind maps provide an effective study technique when applied to written material." To keep up the student motivation to draw such maps, became a a problem, they also found.

And Pressley, Van Etten, Yokoi, Freebern, and VanMeter (1998) found that learners tended to learn far better by focusing on the content of learning material rather than worrying over any one particular form of note taking.

Effective study is hard work. Processing LTM matters is helped by visual displays and in other ways. Visual displays include graphics and well shaped, well built mind maps too. To put them to good use after once forming or getting them is fair.


mind maps, idea maps in the learning process, on learning and sound study, Literature  

Buzan, Tony. 2010. Use Your Head. Harlow, Essex: BBC Books Pearson.

Buzan, Tony. 1988. Make the Most of Your Mind. Rev. ed. London: Pan.

Buzan, Tony, and Barry Buzan. 2010. The Mind Map Book: Unlock Your Creativity, Boost Your Memory, Change Your Life. Harlow: BBC Active / Pearson.

Farrand, Paul, Fearzana Hussain, and Enid Hennessy. 2002. The efficacy of the 'mind map' study technique. Medical Education, Vol 36 (Issue 5), 22 May, page 426-431.

Fleetham, Mike. 2006. Multiple Intelligences in Practice: Enhancing Self-esteem and Learning in the Classroom. Stafford, UK: Network Continuum Education.

Garland, Sarah. 2004. The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices: An Illustrated Guide to Growing and Using Culinary, Aromatic, Cosmetic and Medicinal Plants. Rev. paperback ed. London: Frances Lincoln.

Hacker, Douglas J., John Dunlosky, and Arthur C. Graesser, eds. 1998. Metacognition in Educational Theory and Practice.. London: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Li-Ling Hsu. 2004. Developing concept maps from problem-based learning scenario discussions. Journal of Advanced Nursing 48 (5) , 510-518

McDermott, Peter, and D. N. Clarke. 1998. Mind Maps in Medicine. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Pressley, Michael, Shawn VanEtten, Linda Yokoi, Geoffrey Freebern, and Peggy VanMeter. 1998. "The metacognition of college studentship: A grounded theory approach". In: D. J. Hacker, J. Dunlosky, and A. C. Graesser (Eds.), Metacognition in Theory and Practice (pp. 347-367). Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.

Schunk, Dale. Learning Theories. An Educational Perspective. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2008.

Smith, Carolyn D., ed, et al. Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology. 14th ed. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003.

Sternberg, Robert J. and Scott Barry Kaufman, eds. 2011. The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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