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behavioural geography

  An emphasis upon the psychology underpinning individual spatial behaviour that has emphasized the role of cognitive and decision-making factors that intervene in the relations between a multidimensional environment and human action; cognition in this sense is understood as the active mental process of learning about places (Downs and Stea, 1977). The development of spatial analysis included initially some simple and deterministic assumptions concerning human behaviour. People were assumed to be both rational and optimizers in their actions (see rational choice theory); translated to a spatial surface, this meant that they were above all concerned with the geographical law of least effort, distance minimization (cf. distance decay).With increasing empirical work, the simplicity of this fundamental postulate was steadily relaxed. First, stochastic or probabilistic processes were admitted to the analysis, as in Hägerstrand\'s (1968) seminal experiments with simulation models that introduced a random variable into the distance parameters governing an otherwise deterministic spatial process of innovation diffusion. A second modification was the replacement of the random variable by a set of cognitive variables. This advance gave rise to the wideranging subfield of behavioural geography.

Not the least interesting aspect of this development was geography\'s new-found affinity with psychology, an association anticipated in David Lowenthal\'s (1961) enormously influential paper on geographical experience and imagination. The association was nurtured at both ends, with the simultaneous rise of environmental psychology which found the traditional geographical commitment to fieldwork to be a valuable precedent as it grappled with behaviour outside strictly controlled laboratory settings (Spencer and Blades, 1986; Garling and Golledge, 1993). During the 1970s this productive interdisciplinary relationship developed through the annual meetings of the Environmental Design Research Association in the United States and in the pages of the new journal, Environment and Behavior. Only in the 1980s, as human geography turned beyond individual to social contexts of action, and to disciplinary links with sociology, did this relationship wane.

Research in behavioural geography advanced around several more or less independent themes. In locational analysis the influential research of organizational behaviour theorists such as Simon (1957) and Cyert and March (1963) introduced a more grounded emphasis on decision-making to geographical studies. In an important paper, Wolpert (1964) showed that, for a sample of Swedish farmers, optimal farming practices were not attainable. He tested whether the farmers were indeed maximizing their utility functions, and were in possession of a complete stock of knowledge about available economic opportunities (cf. utility theory). Finding that neither of these conditions was met, he concluded that the farmers were not optimizers but, in Simon\'s term, satisficers (see satisficing behaviour). Not only did they lack complete knowledge and a perfect capacity for processing information, but there were other, and competing, values and aspirations which they held, as well as the force of habit that diverted them from new opportunities. A related study of industrial location (Pred, 1967) struck even closer to the core of conventional spatial analysis, Once again, the conclusion was that satisficing, the art (as well as the science) of making do, provided the most appropriate description of corporate decision-making, and thus of subsequent geographical patterns.

The extent to which behavioural geography departed from the paradigm of spatial analysis was contested. For some authors, location theory was powerful enough to account for all but a \'residual domain\' of spatial events, and \'this domain will presumably be colonised by a cognitive-behavioural location theory\' (Harvey, 1969). But other authors saw the development of a cognitive-behavioural perspective in more substantial terms. In Olsson\'s (1969) oft-cited words, \'the earlier stress on the geometric outcome of the spatial game has lessened in favor of analyses of the rules which govern the moves of the actors who populate the gaming table\'. Certainly, the decision-making rules of the actors were the major concern of a second influential body of research which examined the geography of environmental hazards. For in this domain, non-rational behaviour was palpable, as residents and businesses chose locations that placed them at risk from such environmental hazards as river or sea floods, avalanches, and earthquakes. Why did such seemingly irrational locational behaviour occur? In some instances, site selection was the product of incomplete information as, for example, homeowners who had purchased property in seismically sensitive areas of California (Palm, 1981). In other instances it seemed that geographical information was interpreted through the filter of distinctive personality dispositions. Here, behavioural research was closest to psychology, and drew upon such personality measures as the thematic apperception test (TAT), skilfully employed by Saarinen (1966) in his study of Great Plains wheat farmers operating in a region of marginal drought conditions. (See also hazards, human-made.)

The TAT was one of a battery of paper and pencil tests used to assess attitudes, a practice that has been a distinctive methodological feature of behavioural geography. The third major field of research, environmental perception, employed a range of attitudinal scales including repertory grids and the semantic differential to evaluate the meaning of places. The structured questionnaire was the fundamental research instrument. In his seminal study of mental maps, for example, Gould asked college students to write down in rank order their residential preferences among different American states (Gould and White, 1974). More usually, geographers took their questionnaires out of the classroom and into the field as they probed the perceptions of such disparate phenomena as shopping centres, recreational sites, or dangerous streets.

Since the 1970s behavioural research in human geography and related interdisciplinary fields has multiplied in such traditional domains as cognitive mapping (Kitchin, 1994), environmental learning (Golledge et al., 1995), spatial search behaviour (Clark, 1993) and developmental issues in spatial cognition (Kirasic, 1991), and cartography (Liben and Downs, 1989), as well as contributing to new research fields including way-finding among the disabled (Golledge 1993), on which a review collected some 600 citations (Golledge and Timmermans, 1990; Timmermans and Golledge, 1990; also Golledge and Stimson, 1997 — cf. disability, geography and). But in certain respects, despite its range, behavioural geography has become increasingly homogeneous, at least methodologically. Early contributions maintained considerable methodological diversity, employing techniques that included such qualitative methods as participant observation (Brookfield, 1969). In such a cognitive-behavioural approach, Mercer and Powell (1972) anticipated a contribution that would \'preserve and foster a “humanist” alternative to the popular mechanistic explanation\'. That diversity has given way to a more squarely analytical methodology predicated upon a positivist philosophy of science favoured by both spatial analysis and psychology (but see Couclelis and Golledge, 1983). As Harvey (1969) predicted, behavioural geography became \'an appendage\' of the locational school and as such was irreversibly shaped by the quantitative revolution, developing a preoccupation with measurement, statistical analysis and a highly formalized methodology.

But does such a repertoire deal adequately with the realm of human consciousness and intersubjective realms (Ley, 1981; Lowenthal, 1987)? For, as Olsson (1974) has observed, in the realm of hopes and fears, two times two is not always equal to four. A second criticism has been directed against the intrusive nature of behavioural methodology, which either operates in a simplified quasi-laboratory format or else disrupts the flow of spontaneous action in the field and controls the nature of response in its use of formalized research instruments. Such intrusion systematically removes the contexts which give meaning to events and actions. Perhaps the most serious severance of context is the manner in which questionnaires, administered to individuals, remove the social context in which decisions are made, and where actions originate.

As human geography shares something of a post-positivist scepticism of highly formal scientific methods, the criticisms of behavioural geography have assumed greater weight. To earlier criticisms another may be advanced: To what extent is research that is predicated upon a philosophy of observation able to discern realities which are not directly observable? Where do the contextual forces of ideology and social structure fit in a research programme concerned with the behaviour of individuals? These questions (and others) extend also to allusions by some geographers to psychoanalytic theory, which would seem to represent a more structural approach to individual behaviour. An attempt to address some of these questions appears in Golledge and Stimson\'s (1997) massive codification of behavioural geography. The book\'s ambitious range and detail guarantee that this entry is far from an obituary. Besides leaving the discipline with some significant concepts like mental maps, mean information fields, timegeography and spatial search, behavioural geography continues its task to clarify \'the decision-making processes of individuals, groups, and institutions in a spatial context\' (Golledge and Stimson, 1997, p. 1). (See also human agency; humanistic geography.) (DL)

References Brookfield, H. 1969: On the environment as perceived. Progress in Human Geography 1: 51-80. Clark, W.A.V. 1993: Search and choice in urban housing markets. In T. Garling and R.G. Golledge, eds, Behaviour and environment: psychological and geographical approaches. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 298-316. Couclelis, H. and Golledge, R.G. 1983: Analytic research, positivism and behavioral geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 73: 531-9. Cyert, R. and March, J. 1963: A behavioral theory of the firm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Downs, R. and Stea, D. 1977: Maps in minds: reflections on cognitive mapping. New York: Harper and Row. Garling, T. and Golledge, R.G., eds, 1993: Behavior and environment: psychological and geographical approaches. Amsterdam: Elsevier. Golledge, R.G. 1993: Geography and the disabled: a survey with special reference to vision impaired and blind populations. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 18: 63-85. Golledge, R.G. and Stimson, R. 1997: Spatial behavior: a geographic perspective. New York: Guilford Press. Golledge, R.G. and Timmermans, H. 1990: Applications of behavioral research on spatial problems I: cognition, Progress in Human Geography 14: 57-99. Golledge, R.G., Dougherty, V. and Bell, S. 1995: Acquiring spatial knowledge: survey versus route-based knowledge in unfamiliar environments. Annals Association American Geographers 85: 134-58. Gould, P.R. and White, R. 1974: Mental maps. London: Penguin. Hägerstrand, T. 1968: Innovation diffusion as a spatial process. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Harvey, D. 1969: Conceptual and measurement problems in the cognitive-behavioral approach to location theory. In K.R. Cox and R.G. Golledge, eds, Behavioral problems in geography. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern Studies in Geography no. 17: 35-67. Kirasic, K. 1991: Spatial cognition and behavior in young and elderly adults: implications for learning new environments. Psychology and Aging 6: 1-18. Kitchin, R. 1994: Cognitive maps: what are they and why study them? Journal of Environmental Psychology 14: 1-19. Ley, D. 1981: Behavioral geography and the philosophies of meaning. In K.R. Cox, and R.G. Golledge, eds, Behavioral problems in geography revisited. London: Methuen, 209-30. Liben, L. and Downs, R.M. 1989: Understanding maps as symbols: the development of map concepts in children. Advances in Child Development and Behavior 22: 145-201. Lowenthal, D. 1961: Geography, experience and imagination: towards a geographical epistemology. Annals of Association of American Geographers 51: 241-60. Lowenthal, D. 1987: Environmental perception: an odyssey of ideas. Journal of Environmental Psychology 7: 337-46. Mercer, D. and Powell, J.M. 1972: Phenomenology and related non-positivistic approaches in the social sciences. Department of Geography, Monash University, Publications no. 1. Olsson, G. 1969: Inference problems in locational analysis. In K.R. Cox, and R.G. Golledge, eds, pp. 14-34. Olsson, G. 1974: The dialectics of spatial analysis. Antipode 6 (3): 50-62. Palm, R. 1981: Public response to earthquake hazard information. Annals Association of American Geographers 71: 389-99. Pred, A. 1967: Behavior and location. Lund Studies in Geography, Series B, no. 27. Saarinen, T. 1966: Perception of drought hazard on the Great Plains. University of Chicago, Department of Geography, Research paper no. 106. Simon, H. 1957: Models of man. New York: John Wiley. Spencer C. and Blades, M. 1986: Pattern and process: a review essay on the relationship between behavioural geography and environmental psychology. Progress in Human Geography 10: 230-48. Timmermans, H. and Golledge, R.G. 1990: Applications of behavioural research on spatial problems II: preference and choice. Progress in Human Geography 14: 311-54. Wolpert, J. 1964: The decision process in spatial context. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 54: 537-58.

Suggested Reading Cox, F. and Golledge, R., eds, 1981: Behavioral problems in geography revisited. London: Methuen. Golledge and Stimson (1997). Spencer and Blades (1986).



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