The Cognition of Scale in Human Search Problems and

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The Cognition of Scale in Human Search Problems and Wayfinding Strategy

Thomas J. PingelNorthern Illinois University

Victor R. SchinaziETH Zürich

Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Tampa, FL, April 11, 2014.

Session: Cognition

, Behavior, and

Representation I - Spatial

Cognition and





What is strategy?Distinctions between strategic and systematicsearch

and memorization strategystrategy and performancePredictors of spatial strategy

Environmental spatial ability

Personality factors



How do the strategies that an individual uses to explore a room affect his or her cognitive

map?Strategy type changed between trials, and overall time was lower.

But, no clear improvement in object location recall between trials.




As measured by object learning performance, which strategies are most effective?

Good performers had twice the number of object-to-object visits.Gridline search strategies were almost never used.Poor

performers were observed to use perimeter strategies nearly twice as often, but verbally reported using fewer.Gaunet and Thinus-Blanc (1996) found strategy not related to IQ.

Hill et al. (1993)


How would sighted individuals solve it?

Vision helps coordinate search, but an introduced lack of vision increases novelty and difficulty.



Find and remember the locations of four invisible objects, whose positions are marked only with audio cues.3 Scales of Search20 m2

, 250 m2, 1000m2Position tracked withLaser-based system indoorshigh-grade GPS outdoors

Afterward, indicate position via compass and sketch

Self-report based measures of

environmental spatial ability and strategic disposition

48 total participants




Scale and Multiple Psychologies of SpaceMontello (1993)

Figuralsmaller than the bodyDirectly perceived, no locomotion required

Vistalarger than the bodydirectly perceived, no locomotion requiredEnvironmental


than the

bodydirectly perceived, locomotion required

Geographicalmuch larger than the bodylearned via maps or models


Strategy Types

Search strategy; human-coded (3 independent judges, 2/3 agree)ScanlineA series of sequential, parallel transects

PerimeterA continuous search of the perimeter of the spaceTask strategy; machine-coded (based on track data)Search (%)

Movement to an object not previously found

Localization (%)

Movement to finely fix the position of an object

Reinforcement (%)Direct movement between previously found objects




Larger spaces require longer (total) searches.

Spearman’s r(48) = 0.47; p < .001


The composition of the search changes with scale;significantly so for search (p < .001) and reinforcement (p < .001).


Type of search strategy changes with

scale, significantly so for scanline (p=.01) and perimeter (p<.001)


Index measures as predictors

SBSOD predictsTotal time and distanceObject location recall (via model placement)But notSearch or Task strategy

Strategic Disposition Index predictsObject location recall (via model placement)But notTotal time and distanceSearch or Task strategy


Strategy and performance

Controlling for scale, type of search strategy (scanline, perimeter) does not impact:Pointing / placement performance

Total search distance or timeExplicit search distance or time


Strategy ≠ systematic search.

Strategy describes methods applied to a goal.The goal is not (or may not be) to reduce mean search distance (or time).It may be to solve the problem within an {acceptable, predictable, satisfactory} level of cost.


Mean time is higher for systematic searchers.

But, variability tends to be lower.Systematic searching may be

related to risk aversion.


ConclusionsStrategy is not equivalent to either systematic search or performance.

Scale is a strong determinant of both search and task strategy.The difference in strategy observable at vista scale indicates that refinements to Montello’s (1993) typology may be needed.



NIU students Ben Maloney and Stacey TerlepETH Zurich interns Dario Meloni

and Carina HoppenzUniversity of California Transportation Center for grant support


, F., &


-Blanc, C. (1996). Early-blind subjects’ spatial abilities in the locomotor space: Exploratory strategies and reaction-to-change performance. Perception, 25(8), 967-981. Hegarty, M., Richardson, A. E., Montello, D. R., Lovelace, K., & Subbiah, I. (2002). Development of a Self-Report Measure of Environmental Spatial Ability. Intelligence, 30, 425-447.Hill, E.W., Rieser, J.J., Hill, M.M., Hill, M., Halpin, J., & Halpin, R. (1993). How persons with visual impairments explore novel spaces: strategies of good and poor performers. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 87(8), 295-301.Montello, D. R. (1993). Scale and multiple psychologies of space. In A. U. Frank, & I. Campari (Eds.), Spatial information theory: a theoretical basis for GIS. Proceedings of COSIT ’93. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol. 716 ( pp. 312–321). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Pingel, T. J. (2012). Characterizing the Role of Strategic Disposition and Orientation to Risk in Wayfinding. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 15(4), 427-437.Tellevik, J.M. (1992). Influence of spatial exploration patterns of cognitive mapping by blindfolded sighted persons. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 92, 221 -224.References


Sex Differences of Index Measures

Self-report of environmental spatial ability was higher for men (M=6.0) than women (M=5.5)Effect size (Cohen’s d=0.5) consistent with the literature (

Hegarty et al., 2006)Self-report of strategic disposition was higher for men (M=5.4) than women (M=3.9)Effect size (d=1.1)

Meta-analysis across several studies suggests these are linked

r(134) = 0.48, p<.001

Difference in this male/sdi

population with respect to norm


30 participantscongenitally blind

adventitiously blindblindfolded sightedExplore, then, on a later trial, detect a change to the layout of objectsCongenitally blind performed worseUsed cyclical visits

Adventitiously blind and blindfolded sightedUsed back-and-forth visitsPerformance and strategy not linked to IQ




-Blanc (1996)


The Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale (Hegarty

et al., 2002)1. I am very good at giving directions.

2. I have a poor memory for where I left things.3. I am very good at judging distances.4. My "sense of direction" is very good.5. I tend to think of my environment in terms of cardinal directions (N, S, E, W).

6. I very easily get lost in a new city.

7. I enjoy reading maps.

8. I have trouble understanding directions.

9. I am very good at reading maps.10. I don't remember routes very well while riding as a passenger in a car.11. I don't enjoy giving directions.12. It's not important to me to know where I am.13. I usually let someone else do the navigational planning for long trips.14. I can usually remember a new route after I have traveled it only once.15. I don't have a very good "mental map" of my environment.Correlates well withPointing to landmarks at a variety of scalesBlindfolded updatingLearning environments from Virtual Environments and videoBut notVandenberg and Kuse mental rotation testEmbedded figures test


The Strategic Disposition Index(Pingel. 2012)





for strategic thinking.Able to externalize or explain strategy.Correlated to preference for orientation and route-based wayfinding strategies.



Sex effects on strategy selection

Controlling for scale, no sex effect forSearch strategy: scanline, perimeter, ISS

Task strategy: search, localize, reinforceOverall search performance: time & distanceObject learning performance: pointing & placement


Vision and Search Strategy

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