The effects of prior knowledge on the learning of categories of maps

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The purpose of this study is to answer several important questions concerning the learning of categories of geographic information from maps. Categorization is a fundamental part of both learning and communication, and learning and communication are, in turn, central to any field of study. If categorization is a fundamental part of the learning process, then how people categorize information learned from maps must be of concern to cartographers and geographers. This study examines map reader categorization by having subjects in an experimental situation learn categories of maps. The primary variables in this study are the coherence of the categories and the duration of exposure to the categories. It was found that coherent categories cause subjects to rely on prior knowledge. The ability to use prior knowledge allows subjects to learn categories quickly, but it also causes them to make inaccurate assumptions about the category membership. This finding was not altered when subjects were given longer exposures to the category membership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-136
Number of pages11
JournalProfessional Geographer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 1997


  • Categories
  • Cognition
  • Map-reading
  • Prototypes


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