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mental maps

  One of the principal concepts of behavioural geography, referring to the pyschological representation of places as revealed by simple paper and pencil tests. A psychological turn in human geography in the late 1960s directed attention to the central role of environmental perception as a mediation between the environment and human action. This was a decisive move against determinism, though by this period the offending reduction was to the economic environment rather than the physical environment of earlier decades. To identify a key role for cognition was, then, to relax the micro-economic determinism of locational analysis with its presupposition of fully rational spatial behaviour. A proliferation of terms was assembled to describe mental configurations of places. In a much-cited project, Lynch (1960) asked residents in several cities to provide him with an image of the downtown district. Downs and Stea (1973) in contrast referred to cognitive maps which they particularly associated with orientation and way-finding behaviour (cf. cognitive mapping; image). Other terminology included spatial cognition, spatial schemata, action space, activity space and awareness space (Golledge and Stimson, 1997). All of these concepts implied knowledge of the configuration and structure of space; some of them also included evaluation, that is a concern with the meaning of space (Ley, 1974).

The most influential research was Peter Gould\'s innovative experiments exploring the content of what he called mental maps (Gould, 1965; Gould and White, 1974). In the initial experiments, students at universities in several American states were asked to rank order the states they would like to live in following graduation. Invariably the results showed the existence of a national preference surface upon which was superimposed a local surface highlighting the desirability of the home region, wherever it might be. The experimental sites were expanded by Gould and his students to Britain, Sweden and Africa, and included consideration of the developmental growth of mental maps by children of different ages, as well as the relation in Africa between the national preference surface and the spatial impress of modernization (Gould and White, 1974). The implication of this research programme was that mental maps were not only preference surfaces, but also predictors of future residential choice and migration. Later American research found that significant relationships did indeed exist between mental maps and the patterning of inter-state migration flows (Lloyd, 1975).

The notion of mental maps has passed from its illustrious and widely-cited origins — including a full page article in Time magazine — to a more routinized element in the repertoire of human geography. Work of a more specialized and technical nature continues (e.g. Golledge, Dougherty and Bell, 1995), and, sustaining the old interdisciplinary linkages, there remains a continuing interest in environmental psychology (Kitchin, 1994). Moreover, mental-maps work propelled an ongoing concern with the representation of places that remains as much on the research frontier at the fin-de-siècle as it did in Gould\'s first studies a generation earlier. This is not to say that there have not been immense changes in conceptualization over the past 30 years. Qualitative assessments of the meaning of place were a primary objective of humanistic geography, which, working with a range of literary and philosophical styles, demarcated the variable meeting and interpenetration of subject and object, place and Identity (cf. qualitative methods). Currently, work in human geography and beyond, influenced by postmodernism, post-structuralism, feminism (see feminist geographies) and post-colonialism, continues to sustain a keen focus on the representation of places, though, in a move from psychology to social and cultural history, research now more usually sees these representations as constructed through social discourse and practice rather than as individual mental schemata (cf. Orientalism; travel writing, geography and). (DL)

References Downs, R. and Stea, D., eds, 1973: Image and environment: cognitive mapping and spatial behavior. Chicago: Aldine. Golledge, R.G. and Stimson, R. J. 1997: Spatial behavior: a geographic perspective. New York: Guilford Press. Golledge, R.G., Dougherty, V. and Bell, S. 1995: Acquiring spatial knowledge: survey versus route-based knowledge in unfamiliar environments. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 85: 134-58. Gould, P.R. 1965: On mental maps. Discussion paper no. 9. Ann Arbor: Michigan Inter-University Community of Mathematical Geographers. Gould, P.R. and White, R. 1974: Mental maps. London: Penguin. Kitchin, R. 1994: Cognitive maps: what are they and why study them? Journal of Environmental Psychology 14: 1-19. Ley, D. 1974: The black inner city as frontier outpost: images and behavior of a Philadelphia neighborhood. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Geographers, Monograph Series, no. 7. Lloyd, R. 1975: Cognition, preference and behavior in space. Economic Geography 52: 241-53. Lynch, K. 1960: The image of the city. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Suggested Reading Gould and White (1974).



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