We argue that differences in the perception and governance of adaptation to climate change and extreme weather events are related to sets of beliefs and concepts through which people understand the environment and which are used to solve the problems they face (mental models). Using data gathered in 31 in-depth interviews with adaptation experts in Europe, we identify five basic stakeholder groups whose divergent aims and logic can be related to different mental models they use: advocacy groups, administration, politicians, researchers, and media and the public. Each of these groups uses specific interpretations of climate change and specifies how to deal with climate change impacts. We suggest that a deeper understanding and follow-up of the identified mental models might be useful for the design of any stakeholder involvement in future climate impact research processes. It might also foster consensus building about adequate adaptation measures against climate threats in a society.