Cognitive Maps

The term 'cognitive map' derives from a paper written by Edward Tolman in 1948. Entitled 'Cognitive maps in rats and men', although mainly about rats, it put forward the idea that the rodents built up so called 'cognitive maps' over time that enabled them to steer their way about their environments. Tolman compared the rat's brain to the central office of a map making agency, using the principles of psychological field theory to explain how the rat selectively extracted information from the environment in order to build up a field like map of that environment. This, of course, was merely an analogy, but the idea of a 'map in the mind' and the corresponding processes of 'cognitive mapping' – by which individuals acquire, store, and recall information about the places and environments with which they come into contact – were eagerly adopted by behavioral geographers. Broadly speaking, the resulting research centered on three main areas.

The first comprised inquiries into the construction and organization of cognitive maps, examining the way in which maps acquire stability and how they accommodate change through learning. An immediate and lasting focus comprised studies of the spatial knowledge of children at particular stages in their development. Inter alia, researchers examined the differences encountered when comparing children of different ages, the world views of schoolchildren, the effect of ethnic group and gender upon the known world, the role of socioeconomic status, the impact of the journey to school, preferential cognitions and perceptions of danger, and the role of fantasy and imagination. Attention was paid to the representational strategies adopted and to methods by which to externalize spatial knowledge. A broad distinction became apparent between those that considered that spatial knowledge was accumulated incrementally and those that believed that qualitatively different abilities were involved at different ages. This distinction mirrored that found in developmental psychology between incrementalists and constructivists. Influenced particularly by the ideas of Jean Piaget and Heinz Werner, the latter group believed that spatial learning was not just a question of acquiring more spatial information (as did the incrementalists), but that it also involved a sequence of stages in which the child developed progressively more sophisticated schemata through which to organize this information.

The second area of research centered on cognition of the urban environment. A large corpus of research that examined perceived distance within cities, for example, generated four variables that helped to explain the discrepancies between perception and actuality, namely: direction (overestimates of distances towards the city centre compared with the opposite direction); the attractiveness of the location; familiarity (especially in terms of length of residence); and the directness of the route. A substantial volume of research also focused on the character and function of the urban neighborhood. Typical topics for investigation included comparisons between perceived neighborhood and the spatially defined 'neighborhood units' then popular with planners, cognition of neighborhood quality, studies of linkages between residential satisfactions and neighborhood stability, neighborhood preferences, and intra urban mi gration. Studies of spatial decision making with regard to retailing and services also showed pronounced 'neighborhood effects' in choice of destination and resulting travel behavior.

The most significant body of work on cognition of the urban environment, however, was stimulated by Lynch's studies of urban legibility. The Image of the City showed how readily understood methods (sketch maps and verbal descriptions) could be used to explore urban imagery and provided the fivefold typology by which to classify elements of the perceived city. Although Lynch neglected questions of meaning, the speed with which other workers replicated his approach indicated that a viable research paradigm had been created – within 15 years, there were studies consolidating his findings in other cities of the USA, the UK, France, the Netherlands, West Germany, Lebanon, and Venezuela amongst others. Elsewhere, Donald Appleyard applied Lynch's ideas to the development of a new town (Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela) and gave credence to the assertion that cognitive behavioralist research might have policy relevance. In addition, Appleyard contributed to a project with John Myer and Lynch on the 'view from the road'. This used a study of motorists' travel along freeways into four American cities (Boston, Hartford, New York, and Philadelphia) to explore road travel as a conscious aesthetic experience. Understandably, this study emphasized the visual component of spatial cognition, but the same technique of using a set route as a transect was employed elsewhere to explore the sonic and haptic environments of cities.

The third area of cognitive mapping research explored the wider scale of regional and world images. In their book Mental Maps, for example, Peter Gould and Rodney White used the technique of rank ordering regions from lists of national administrative units (see above) to inquire into the nature of preferential cognition. Their text contains studies of images of Britain; environmental preferences and regional images in the United States and Canada; analysis of patterns of ignorance, information, and learning; and the implications of mental maps for administration and education. Gould and White mapped preferences by means of principalcomponents analysis and depicted the results by differential shading on a base map. Subsequent researchers used a rubber sheeting metaphor, producing a three-dimensional impression of the degree of distortion of the cognitive map compared with the cartographic map. The theme of place and regional stereotypes was further developed by researchers interested in the way that people cope with environmental complexity, noting that places and regions become classified on the basis of gross generalizations that may contain only a grain of truth. Correspondingly, those studying the images of negatively stereotyped locations also drew attention to the use of place promotion – the conscious use of publicity and marketing to communicate selective images of specific localities or areas to a target audience – to carry out rebranding in order to make places more attractive to potential industrial, commercial, or residential migrants.