Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Assessment of Simulated Cognitive Maps: The Influence of Prior Knowledge from Cartographic Maps

Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Assessment of Simulated Cognitive Maps: The Influence of Prior Knowledge from Cartographic Maps

Article excerpt


Cognitive maps are internal memory structures that represent learned spatial information. Classic studies have related distortions in cognitive maps to reference point, alignment, and rotation effects (Tversky 1981; Holyoak and Mah 1982). A number of studies have reported differences in cognitive maps that are learned through navigation and map reading (Thorndyke and Hayes-Roth 1982; Lloyd 1989). More recent neuro-imaging studies have suggested that recalling information learned using these processing methods activates different brain systems (Mellet et al. 2000; Shelton and Gabrieli 2004).

The typical human brain (Figure 1a) contains multiple cognitive maps it has learned that represent acquired knowledge about locations on the Earth (Figure 1b). As an example of such maps, the current study considers knowledge of the locations of cities in South Carolina. It is acknowledged that spatial knowledge is influenced by navigation experiences but also argued that information learned from cartographic maps should be considered essential for larger spaces (Figure 1d). When cartographers make maps, they select, simplify, and organize the information on the maps to reduce the cognitive load of map readers. A well designed map should allow map readers to acquire spatial knowledge more efficiently. Although some progress has been made in understanding the internal nature of cognitive maps, it remains difficult for cartographers to study maps encoded in human brains directly (Jacobs and Schenk 2003).


The typical approach used in studying cognitive maps has been to ask subjects to provide information from their spatial memories that might infer something about the nature of the internal structure of their learned cognitive maps. Cognitive mappers have been asked to draw maps (Buttenfield 1986; Saarinen 1988), make direct numerical estimates of locations (Brown and Friedman 1999; Friedman and Brown 2000), and mark locations directly in a reference frame (Lloyd and Hooper 1991; Lloyd 2000a) to reveal the nature of their cognitive maps.

These data are products of internal memory structures and are assumed to reflect the current natures of individuals' cognitive maps (Liben 1981). These data are products of already acquired memories. The preceding processes that created the memories are likely to be extremely complex and vary considerably among individuals. Typical laboratory experiments that are purposefully designed to control novel spatial information available for human subjects to learn and the timing of the learning experiences are generally not appropriate with subjects who have already acquired real-world spatial knowledge. When subjects have already acquired spatial knowledge, it is rarely known what specific information influenced the nature of their cognitive maps or when the information was learned. One frequently used solution to this control problem is a research design that has subjects encoding novel information from hypothetical maps during laboratory experiments (Lloyd and Bunch 9003; 2005).

The current study assesses an alternate approach. It uses real-world spatial information and controls learning processes with artificial subjects that can simulate the acquisition of spatial knowledge (Figure 1c). The study explores this possibility with sell-organizing maps (SOM) learned by artificial neural networks. The purpose of the research was to assess these simulated cognitive maps in an experimental design which considered the prior knowledge and home location of learners. The basic problem of the research was to simulate the learning of cognitive maps at different home locations while controlling the prior knowledge available to the simulated learners. Hypotheses concerning which learning conditions produced simulated cognitive maps that best represented both cartographic maps and the sketch maps of human learners ([H.sub.1] and [H.sub. …

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