Conceptual maps illustrate diversity of European values

Data visualizations to reduce opinion polarization

A unique collaboration between Utrecht University computer scientist Tamara Mchedlidze and Tilburg University sociologists has resulted in European Values Maps: an interactive website where scientific data on basic human values across Europe has been depicted in an entirely innovative way. Mchedlidze: “My goal is to investigate whether these maps will contribute to reduced opinion polarization.”

Conceptual map on gender (in)equality

Where do you stand when it comes to gender (in)equality? Perhaps you consider yourself an egalitarianist, but could it be said that you are an economic egalitarianist? Or a super egalitarianist? In case you are curious: visit the website European Values Maps, answer a few questions, and pinpoint yourself on the map. In one click you will find out how your opinion relates to the opinion of other European citizens.

European beliefs and opinions

The map on gender (in)equality, and three more, were created using data from the European Values Study (EVS). EVS is a large-scale survey that is coordinated by Tilburg University, and periodically repeated since 1981. The study covers a wide range of human values. In doing so, it provides insight into the beliefs and opinions of citizens all over Europe, concerning topics such as work, the environment, and religion and morality. Data from the study are used in several fields of academic research, and periodically published in the Atlas of European Values. In that sense, the raw data used to create the European Values Maps are not new.  

We believe that this will help European citizens to embrace their differences and similarities and avoid falling into extreme polarized groups

Conceptual maps

However, the way in which European Value Maps represent the data from the large-scale survey is new. Usually, data from EVS and other sociological studies are visualized with tools such as bar charts, scatterplots, and geographical maps. They often show the results of a survey for one question at a time. European Value Maps are conceptual maps that show results for multiple questions simultaneously. They depict opinion spaces: all possible ways people fill in a survey. By doing so, the maps allow users to observe overall opinions. Conceptual maps resemble geographic maps, but the viewer should not be misled - there are no land borders involved. A ‘country’ on this map is a group of people that hold similar opinions.

Three more conceptual maps on European Values Maps

Embrace differences

The idea for using conceptual maps to depict opinion spaces came from Tamara Mchedlidze and philosopher of science Gregor Betz. They collaborated in a project where the debate on eating habits was visualized and exhibited at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien in Karlsruhe. The majority of the code for the maps has been built by Isabel Floor, a former Bachelor’s student of Mchedlidze.

Mchedlidze is a computer scientist at Utrecht University specialized in data visualizations and algorithms. She built the maps with a clear objective: “They give users the opportunity to observe and investigate the variety of opinions on a certain topic without drawing strict geographic borders”, she explains. “We believe that this will help European citizens to embrace their differences and similarities and avoid falling into extreme polarized groups. This in contrast with visualizations of opinions that are used by media outlets nowadays. They tend to contribute to polarization, in my opinion.”

Further research

Conceptual maps have been used before, but not applied to sociological surveys. In the near future, Mchedlidze will investigate whether these maps will indeed contribute to reduced opinion polarization, since they raise awareness about the sheer variety of the opinions on societal topics. Or more generally, whether these maps are useful for bringing insight to the general public on sociological data.