Cognition of feedback loops in a fire-prone social-ecological system

TitleCognition of feedback loops in a fire-prone social-ecological system
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsHamilton, M, Salerno, J, Fischer, APaige
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Date Published04/2022
KeywordsCognitive maps, Feedback loops, resilience, technical reports and journal articles, wildfire


Increasing wildfire severity highlights the need for large-scale shifts in management of fire-prone landscapes. While prior research has focused on cognitive biases, social norms, and institutional disincentives that limit reform, such factors are best understood as components of feedback loops that operate within complex adaptive systems. We evaluated the prominence and function of feedback loops embedded in cognitive maps—beliefs about patterns of causal relationships that drive system dynamics—elicited from a diverse cross-section of stakeholders in a fire-prone region in the U.S. West. We demonstrate that cognition of feedback loops is rare among individuals, but increasingly prominent within aggregations of cognitive maps, which underscores the importance of collaborative decision-making. Our analysis further reveals a bias toward perception of amplifying feedback loops and of loops in which management actions result in desirable outcomes, which points to areas where progress may be made in reforming wildfire risk governance.