What are Mental Maps? Complete Definition

Aug 9, 2021

Men are stronger than women.

It’s simple, isn’t it? It’s not about whether this statement is right or wrong, it’s just a simple framework of thinking. Often, we generalize things, people, and situations around us. Generalization is a helpful cognitive function as it facilitates speedy information processing.

We box people according to our experiences. You might notice the font of this article and quickly make a judgment about whether the article is pleasing to you or not. The question is: where are these judgments coming from?

The Filters of Perception: Generalization, Deletion, and Distortion

All of us have our unique mental maps. These maps are created by the process of generalization, deletion & distortion, which are our filters. Maps are unique because our filters are unique. Our perceptions are filtered through our memories, mental state, upbringing, values, beliefs, and attitudes. 

Since our mental maps are unique, two people can argue about the meaning of something simply because they see and perceive it differently. To be a successful communicator – something all of us yearn for – it’s important to be able to understand and respect others’ views and perceptions. Understand that ‘their map of the world’ or ‘mental map’ is different from yours.

Observation and active listening will broaden and improve your own mental maps. By working from within the other person’s mental map, your influence over them will increase simply because there will be more connection and they will be more interested in what you have to say. This also develops your sense of flexibility, so that you can relate to and communicate with others’ maps effectively.

Selective Focus and Deletion

Imagine driving on a highway. In a span of ten minutes, you come across signboards, shops, trees, animals, dozens of cars lined up with you, and many zipping past on the opposite side. Do you really remember all of that when you stop the car? You don’t, because it gets deleted.

What happened to the millions of bits of information that met your five senses? Our brain can process 7 + or – 2 bits per second. Everything else gets deleted.

What is selectively retained gets our focus. And what is focused, expands. Deletion occurs when we selectively pay attention to certain aspects of our experience and not others. Without deletion, we would be faced with too much information to handle with our conscious mind.


Distortion is the meaning we create with the information we have retained or what is consciously deleted. We make shifts in our experience of sensory data by making misrepresentations of reality or creating our own meaning.

Misrepresentations are neither good nor bad. In Hindu culture, cows are treated as God, which makes these give the animal preferential treatment. Age-old rituals and customs are built around the meaning we give to objects or beings.  

Distortions are not just the meanings we create; over a period of time, they become part of our belief system, culture, and more. It defines how we take actions and do our behaviors. 


Generalization is a process of drawing universal conclusions based on one or two experiences. At its best, generalization is one of the ways that we learn – by taking the information we have and drawing broad conclusions about the meaning of the effect of those conclusions. 

Generalization gives us speed. It helps us make quick decisions. When we generalize, we reduce the amount of information we need to deal with by putting things in categories. While generalization gives speed, it may not help you in looking at things differently or with nuance; forcing you to build pre-conceived notions or prejudices. 

Whether you think this way or that way, the world shows up to you the way you think. Are men stronger than women? The answer lies in the mental maps that you are holding for yourself.

Prakash Rao, MCC
Prakash Rao, MCC


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