Cognitive Maps

Cognitive Maps

Stephen Hirtle (University of Pittsburgh, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-995-3.ch008
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Cognitive maps are the representations that individuals use to understand, process, and navigate environments. The term cognitive map should not be taken as a literal metaphor as the internal representation will often violate principles of two-dimensional geometry, will rarely be either continuous or complete, and will often include non-spatial attributes, such as sights, sounds, or even aesthetic qualities, of a location. Research on cognitive mapping as made important contributions to both theory and application of geoinformatics by demonstrating how spatial information is acquired, structured, accessed, and schematized by the human information processing system. Theories of cognitive mapping have been expanded by through new frameworks, such as naïve geography, synergetic inter-representation networks, and geocognostics. Together, this body of research has provided a framework for the development of the next generation of user-centered geographic information systems.
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Foundational Issues

The research over the past thirty years has highlighted the importance of cognitive maps in geographic communication, acquisition and use of geographic information, wayfinding, planning, and urban design (Evans, 1980; Kitchin, 1994). From constructing user-centered in-car navigation systems that impose minimally attentional demands on a driver to constructing urban parks that encourage public use, research on cognitive mapping can suggest appropriate parameters to consider in the design process. Most important are a number of foundational issues that have emerged over years of research (Mark et al, 1999).

Knowledge Acquisition

In early research on cognitive mapping with humans, Siegel and White (1975) argued that the acquisition of spatial knowledge starts with landmark recognition, followed by the learning of routes between known landmarks. With enough experience, one will eventually acquire survey knowledge in which the relative location of landmarks is fully understood. Further research on spatial cognition has indicated two problems with the initial conceptualization. First, it is clear that the acquisition sequence is not strictly linear (Allen, 1999). Second, survey knowledge is often never acquired despite years of experience. For example, Moeser (1988) found that student nurses lacked survey knowledge of a large hospital, even after working in the building for over three years, and instead continued to rely on directional signs and known landmarks to navigate through the space. In a recent in-depth study, Ishikawa & Montello (2006) found that that accurate metric knowledge was either gained in the first session or never learned, calling into question the learning parameters in the original conceptualization.

Despite these caveats, the distinction between landmark, route and survey knowledge remains a useful starting place. Most navigation systems are designed to support either route or survey knowledge. In the simplest case, point by point written directions, such as those provided by Mapquest ( and similar web-based mapping systems, are designed to support route knowledge, whereas floor plans are designed to support survey knowledge.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Landmark: A notable building or location used in navigation to help orient oneself.

Wayfinding: The ability to navigate within an environment or from one location to another.

Schematization: Abstraction of spatial relationships, such as connectivity and connectedness, from a Euclidean representation.

Landmark Knowledge: Recognition and recall of landmarks in the environment.

Survey Knowledge: Knowledge of the orientation and distance between locations in the environment.

Cognitive Map: Internal representation of the environment used for orientation, wayfinding and navigation.

Route Knowledge: Ability to navigate along a route without getting lost.

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