The Map Effect


This article presents research designed to investigate map use. Specifically, we interrogate the long-held assumption that people use maps for specific purposes and in specific ways and those purposes and ways differ from other types of graphics. Our approach investigated the behavioral and neurological correlates of map use, differentiated from geometric object use given the same overall task (mental rotation in this case). We asked participants to complete a multisection test of mental rotation, which included different types of graphics—simple geometry, complex geometry, maps with text, and maps without text. A second phase of the research asked a group of participants to complete the mental rotation test while undergoing a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan. Our results reveal that behaviorally, mental rotation performance of the different stimuli type is statistically consistent within categorical type and statistically different among categorical types. Further, the brain activation results reveal that participants are using the maps differently than they are using the geometric objects. These activation results are consistent with previous nonmap studies in which participants adopt different perspective-taking strategies, resulting in different brain activation patterns, when mentally rotating different types of objects.

In Annals of the Association of American Geographers