Asymmetrical learning of locations on maps: Implicit learning, prior knowledge and sex differences

David K. Patton, Robert Earl Lloyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Women have been reported to have an advantage for the memory of unique objects in space while men have been reported to have an advantage on tests of knowledge of geographic information. The current research considers how prior knowledge and asymmetrical learning processes might be related to this apparent contradiction in the literature concerning spatial cognition. Asymmetrical brains allow us to encode map locations as both categorical and coordinate information. Categorical information is expressed verbally, for instance, "City A is located in the northwest quadrant of the map," and is easier to learn but not very precise. Coordinate information is more precise but takes longer to learn. Prior knowledge of locations may result in subjects relying more on coordinate information. Human subject testing was used to examine differences in performance when women and men learned and recalled city locations on maps. Learning was achieved through the use of a repeated search task. Results indicated that subjects implicitly learned the locations of cities during the search task. The distribution of the cities on the maps and whether the cities were known or novel affected performance. The evidence supports the assertion that men may have a greater interest in geographic information, and the additional attention they devote to such information allows them to utilize prior knowledge and gives them an advantage when processing well-known places. The evidence also supports the assertion that women may generally have an advantage learning novel maps because they tend to encode more categorical information, and this information is useful for remembering general locations and can be learned faster.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-50
Number of pages31
JournalCartographic Perspectives
Issue number63
StatePublished - 2009


  • Asymmetrical learning
  • Categorical information
  • Coordinate information
  • Gender
  • Maps
  • Prior knowledge
  • Sex


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