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Psycho-Semantic Mind-Mapping

This Interdisciplinary approach to bridging levels of organization (from several levels within us as individuals and our sevelar levels of social groups (such as friends, family, community…).  

  • Using a psychosemantic mind map one can get a rough idea of the diversity of connections, associations, resonances that converge on our understanding of a term for an idea (such as “love” or “art” or “who I am”) …and EACH of these, so different for each of us, is a PATH to meaning.  


Obviously, we are more-or-less the same and we are more-or-less different from each other –and we change as well throughout our biological development as we accumulate experience and find ourselves in different contexts and in varying states of mind.  Further, these similarities and differences are at every level of organization, from the cellular to the social.


While rooted in the general idea of the mind-map, the idea of a psycho-semantic mind-mapping provides a strategy for graphically representing the meaning of a concept for an individual. It is form of projective technique resembling the venerable word-association test.  Personal meaning is presumed to consist of an individual’s  explicit and implicit associations.  A psycho-semantic word map can motivate and encourage a participant to explore the extended personal meaning of a concept by seeing its associations or resonances with related terms or phrases.  A powerful source of insight is comparison with how other individuals have mapped the same concept.   For example, a map centered on the word “art” may for one individual lead to associations emphasizing the products of great artists while in another the words spontaneously associated might emphasize the processes of art.


There are three components to a psycho-semantic map:

1. Core question or concept: this is a key word or outline phrase that is the main focus of the map.

2. Strands: subordinate ideas that help explain or clarify the main concept. These are generated by individuals in a manner akin to pre-reflective free-associations of words that come to mind.

3. Authenticity: rapid pre-reflective associations are believed to be more authentic, emphasizing the individual’s genuine associations and not what they think they need no say to conform to societal norms or expectations.

The psycho-semantic  map is inspired by and resembles mechanistic flow-charts or “mind-maps” in which associated ideas  are laid out and organized in patterns to characterize an concept in a comprehensive and scholarly way. Such maps represent one’s mastery of a topic and generally emphasize all known culturally relevant variables pertaining to a specific question and anticipated questions. Uncensored psycho-semantic maps, on the other hand reflect the uniqueness of the individual and support a sense of autonomy and ownership as well as enabling insights derived from comparisons with classmates that enlarge a topic’s meaning end enhance intersubjectvity


“The levels of organization we are mostly concerned with in the classroom emphasize perception and cognition at the center, and the immediate aspects of body just beneath (embodied cognition) and the immediate aspects of the environment just above—including intersubjectivity and sociocultural embeddedness (socially situated cognition)—all are incorporated in the lifeworld.”  (Greenberg 2019)

In art and literature, various devices are used to manifest (or simulate) the expression of pre-reflective or preverbal thought, believed to represent greater authenticity.  Most prominent is stream of consciousness writing, grass-writing[ii], action painting.  It is an element of the appeal of much outsider art.   

 But, speaking of levels of organization, the connections between elements may originate and end up at more-or-less superficial layers of the onion.



Psycho-semantic Mind-maps were discussed as a teaching/learning tool in a lecture presented at a conference in Virginia in 2020: “Personal and Shared Meaning”  



  • Words are, in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous phrase, “fossil poetry.”  They retain clues about their origins and meanings that might not be obvious as they are generally used.  For a famous example, think about the origin of  the words “enthusiasm” and “inspired.”