Fault fictions: systematic biases in the conceptualization of fault zones

Z. K. Shipton, J. J. Roberts, E. L. Comrie, Y. Kremer, R. J. Lunn, J. S. Caine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)


Mental models are a human's internal representation of the real world and have an important role in the way we understand and reason about uncertainties, explore potential options, and make decisions. Mental models have not yet received much attention in geosciences, yet systematic biases can affect any geological investigation; from how the problem is conceived, through selection of appropriate hypotheses and data collection/processing methods, to the conceptualisation and communication of results. We draw on findings from cognitive science and system dynamics, with knowledge and experiences of field geology, to consider the limitations and biases presented by mental models in geoscience, and their effect on predictions of the physical properties of faults in particular. We highlight biases specific to geological investigations and propose strategies for debiasing. Doing so will enhance how multiple data sources can be brought together, and minimise controllable geological uncertainty to develop more robust geological models. Critically, there is a need for standardised procedures that guard against biases, permitting data from multiple studies to be combined and communication of assumptions to be made. While we use faults to illustrate potential biases in mental models and the implications of these biases, our findings can be applied across the geosciences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-143
Number of pages19
JournalGeological Society Special Publications
Early online date12 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2019


  • mental models
  • systematic biases
  • geological investigation
  • debiasing


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