Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

North Is Up(hill): Route Planning Heuristics in Real-World Environments

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

North Is Up(hill): Route Planning Heuristics in Real-World Environments

Article excerpt

Navigators use both external cues and internal heuristics to help them plan efficient routes through environments. In six experiments, we discover and seek the origin of a novel heuristic that causes participants to preferentially choose southern rather than northern routes during map-based route planning. Experiment 1 demonstrates that participants who are tasked to choose between two equal-length routes, one going generally north and one south, show reliable decision preferences toward the southern option. Experiment 2 demonstrates that participants produce a southern preference only when instructed to adopt egocentric rather than allocentric perspectives during route planning. In Experiments 3-5, we examined participants' judgments of route characteristics and found that judgments of route length and preferences for upper relative to lower path options do not contribute to the southern route preference. Rather, the southern route preference appears to be a result of misperceptions of increased elevation to the north (i.e., north is up). Experiment 6 further supports this finding by demonstrating that participants provide greater time estimates for north- than for equivalent south-going routes when planning travel between U.S. cities. Results are discussed with regard to predicting wayfinding behavior, the mental simulation of action, and theories of spatial cognition and navigation.

"I always like going south. Somehow it feels like going downhill."

Treebeard, The Lord of the Rings

Wayfinding, or moving purposefully from origin to destination, is a highly complex yet exceedingly common human task. Sometimes we move unaided, retrieving and applying mental representations of environments to guide us from place to place; other times, we move aided by external representations of environments, such as road maps and global positioning systems (GPS). In the absence of digital support, travelers must develop a route plan that details the path segments and turn angles that guide effective movement through an environment (Golledge, 1999; Montello, 2005). Six experiments provide the first evidence of a heuristic that biases the route-planning process and produces a southern route preference, wherein travelers disproportionately select southern rather than equivalent-distance northern routes during planning.

Route-Planning Asymmetries

In most cases, the ostensible goal of wayfinding is to move from one place to another as quickly and effortlessly as possible. This process is accomplished by reviewing the spatial relationship between an origin and a destination, identifying and comparing route options, and selecting the most viable path (Benshoof, 1970; Bovy & Stern, 1990; Gärling, Lindberg, & Mäntylä, 1983; Golledge, 1995; Jacoby, 1917; Seneviratne & Morrall, 1986). When interviewed, most people agree that they can identify the shortest and most efficient route quickly and without much effort, particularly when using a road map (Gärling & Gärling, 1988; Ueberschaer, 1971). People are not generally aware, however, that their route selections are affected by several implicit strategies for deciding which route to choose when there is no objectively correct decision (Bailenson, Shum, & Uttal, 1998; Christenfeld, 1995; Conroy Dalton, 2003; Gärling & Gärling, 1988; Golledge, 1995; Hochmair & Karlsson, 2005; Hölscher, Meilinger, Vrachliotis, Brösamle, & Knauff, 2006; Janzen, Herrmann, Katz, & Schweizer, 2000; Seneviratne & Morrall, 1986; Wiener, Lafon, & Berthoz, 2008; Wiener & Mallot, 2003; Wiener, Schnee, & Mallot, 2004).

Christenfeld (1995) found that when no objectively correct decision exists during wayfinding, people use implicit strategies to minimize the mental and physical effort involved in moving through the environment. Indeed, some work suggests that people will simplify route plans in an attempt to reduce the costs associated with planning and executing wayfinding sequences (i. …

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