Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Learning Fine-Grained and Category Information in Navigable Real-World Space

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Learning Fine-Grained and Category Information in Navigable Real-World Space

Article excerpt

Spatial judgments are affected by both fine-grained and categorical knowledge. We investigated whether, and how, the two forms of knowledge are learned in real-world, navigable space, as well as the time course of learning each type of knowledge. Participants were Northwestern University undergraduates who estimated the locations of buildings and other landmarks on campus. The Northwestern campus is roughly divided into three regions whose borders are not easy to discern, either from a map or by navigation. Nevertheless, students often refer to these regions linguistically and use them when making housing decisions, choosing classes, and so forth. We found that knowledge of both the fine-grained configuration of locations and the regional distinctions increased with time. However, regional influences on judgments occurred later in students' time on campus. Consequently, computed distances across the nonexistent border between north and south campus locations became more biased with time. The results have implications for understanding how spatial representations develop in navigable environments.

One of the most consistent findings in the past 30 years of spatial cognition research is that mental representations of spatial information often have a categorical structure. Several converging lines of research provide evidence for the psychological reality of categorical representations of spatial information. For example, when asked whether Seattle or Montreal is farther north, people typically respond that Montreal is, even though the opposite is true. People make this error because they respond as if all Canadian cities are north of all U.S. cities, even though this categorical knowledge can lead to large errors (Friedman & Brown, 2000a, 2000b; Friedman, Kerkman, Brown, Stea, & Cappello, 2005; Stevens & Coupe, 1978). Likewise, people consistently overestimate distances that cross imagined or real category boundaries, even if the actual physical distances are equal to or even less than comparable withincategory distances (e.g., Carbon & Leder, 2005; Friedman & Montello, 2006; Hirtle & Jonides, 1985; Hund & Plumert, 2005; Maki, 1981; McNamara, 1986; Newcombe & Liben, 1982; Plumert & Hund, 2001).

Although categorical representations can lead to systematic distortions, they nevertheless serve an important function. For example, in Huttenlocher, Hedges, and Duncan's (1991) category-adjustment model of spatial location judgments, two sources of independent spatial information are combined in a Bayesian fashion to make location estimates from memory (see Cheng, Shettleworth, Huttenlocher, & Rieser, 2007). One source of knowledge is fine-grained metric information about the location of the items. In Huttenlocher et al.'s (1991) case, the finegrained information is information about the location of dots within the boundaries of a circle; in the case of realworld location estimates, fine-grained information can be the location of cities or other locations at either a global (Friedman, 2009; Friedman & Brown, 2000a, 2000b) or a navigable (Kitchin & Fotheringham, 1997) scale.

The second source of spatial information is categorylevel knowledge. This information can also be metric in nature and tends to comprise beliefs about the locations of category boundaries and prototypes. For example, when remembering the locations of dots in a circle, people tend to act as if the circle were divided into quadrants, with the boundaries of the quadrant/categories being (nonexistent) vertical and horizontal lines. Some researchers have suggested that these lines are a cognitive construction (e.g., Huttenlocher et al., 1991), whereas others (e.g., Simmering & Spencer, 2007; Wenderoth & van der Zwan, 1991) have suggested that the lines may be caused by features of the visual system and, hence, are experienced as if they had actually been seen. In either case, these category boundaries are metrically precise-more so, in the usual case, than the fine-grained location information. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.