Geographical review of Japan, Series B.
Online ISSN : 2185-1700
Print ISSN : 0289-6001
ISSN-L : 0289-6001
Cognitive Maps, Spatial Abilities, and Human Wayfinding
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2000 Volume 73 Issue 2 Pages 93-104


In this paper we discuss the relations between cognitive maps, spatial abilities and human wayfinding, particularly in the context of traveling without the use of sight. Initially we discuss the nature of cognitive maps and the process of cognitive mapping as mechanisms for developing person to object (egocentric) and object to object (allocentric) internal representations. Imperfections in encoding either relations can introduce imperfections in representations of environments in memory. This, together with individual differences in human spatial abilities, can result in data manipulations that produce error. When information stored in long term memory is brought into working memory for purposes of decision making and choice behavior (as in route selection), the result may be the selection of an inefficient or incorrect path. We explore the connection between environmental learning and cognitive maps in the context of learning a route in two different cultural environments-Belfast (Northern Ireland) and Santa Barbara (California). Blind, vision impaired, and sighted volunteers traveled and learned routes of approximately the same length (1.2miles) in their respective urban environments. An initial trial was experimenter guided; three following trials were regarded as “test” trials where the participants learned the route and performed route fixing tasks including pointing between designated places, verbally describing the route after each completion, and building a model of the route using metallic strips on a magnetic board. Results indicated that by the end of the third test trial, and using the reinforcing strategies, the results of the blind or vision impaired participants could not be statistically differentiated from those of the sighted participants. This indicated that the wayfinding abilities of the three groups were equivalent in this experiment and suggested that spatial abilities were potentially the same in each group but that lack of sight interfered with putting knowledge into action.

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