University of Sussex
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Expertise in map comprehension: processing of geographic features according to spatial configuration and abstract roles

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:47 authored by Robin S G Kent
Expertise in topographic map reading is dependent on efficient processing of geographical information presented in a standardised map format. Studies have supported the proposition that expert map readers employ cognitive schemas in which prototypical configurations held in long term memory are employed during the surface search of map features to facilitate map comprehension. Within the experts’ cognitive schemas, it is assumed that features are grouped according to spatial configurations that have been frequently encountered and these patterns facilitate efficient chunking of features during information processing. This thesis investigates the nature of information held in experts’ cognitive schemas. It also proposes that features are grouped in the experts’ schemas not only by their spatial configurations but according to the abstract and functional roles they perform. Three experiments investigated the information processing strategies employed by firstly, skilled map readers engaged in a map reproduction task and secondly, expert map readers engaged in a location comparison exercise. In the first and second experiments, skilled and novice map readers studied and reproduced a town map and a topographic map. Drawing protocols and verbal protocols provided insights into their information processing strategies. The skilled map readers demonstrated superior performance for reproducing contour related data with evidence of the use of cognitive schemas. For the third experiment, expert and novice map readers compared locations within map excerpts for similarities of boundary extents. Eye-gaze data and verbal protocols provided information on the features attended to and the participants’ search patterns. The expert group integrated features into their cognitive schemas according to the abstract roles they performed significantly more frequently than the novices. Both groups employed pattern recognition to integrate features for some of the locations. Within a similar experimental design the second part of the third experiment examined whether experts also integrated the abstract roles of remote features and village grouping concepts within their cognitive schemas. The experts again integrated the abstract roles of physical features into their schemas more often than novices but this strategy was not employed for either the remote feature or grouping categories. Implications for map design and future Geographic Information Systems are discussed.


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  • Informatics Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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