Maps and biased familiarity: Cognitive distance error and reference points

Robert Earl Lloyd, David Patton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


When map readers process information on cartographic maps, there is a competition for visual attention controlled by both top-down and bottom-up mechanisms. We hypothesize that when learning, map readers are predisposed to allocate attention asymmetrically and to initially favour some locations over others. This asymmetrical allocation of attention facilitates learning for certain locations as a result of familiarity bias. In this study, participants were asked to learn city locations on one of three cartographic maps. Maps displayed distributions of cities with true or novel locations and names. Results indicate that cognitive distance error was significantly less for "home" reference points, visually central reference points, and reference points within a visual cluster. Female participants outperformed male participants when learning novel maps; male participants performed significantly better with maps with true locations and city names. Both female and male learners performed better when processing maps with familiar locations and names. The results support the idea that a biased allocation of attention would cause learners to consider favoured relationships more frequently and to improve their accuracy relative to less favoured relationships and those that receive less attention. Results also support the notion that multiple factors on a map cause attention bias and that bias should disappear with sufficient experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-184
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011


  • apprentissage spatial
  • attention
  • biased familiarity
  • cognitive distance
  • différences basées sur le sexe
  • distance cognitive
  • effet de familiarité
  • sex differences
  • spatial learning


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