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Mapping as a Cultural and Cognitive Universal

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We hypothesize that nearly all humans, in all cultures, acquire the ability to read and use map-like models in very early childhood, and that this ability is a fundamental part of human ecological adaptation, comparable in many ways to tool use. Evidence pertaining to this theory should be sought in three kinds of research: studies in differing cultures of the development of young children's ability to use map-like models; studies probing for evidence of map-like modeling across the ethnographic spectrum; and studies probing for evidence of the use of map-like models in prehistory. We are pursuing all three lines of research. However, our main focus thus far has been on the developmental dimension of the problem. Here, we report evidence that supports the universality hypothesis from seven empirical studies carried out on mapping abilities of three- to five-year-old children in several Western and non-Western cultures; we offer a general ecological theory of the development of mapping abilities, a theory that appears to explain the evidence elicited and accords with the universality hypothesis; and we discuss the implications of this work for early childhood education.

Keywords: children's geography; cultural universals; development of mapping abilities; ecology of map-like modeling

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Geography Program, University of Illinois at Chicago

Publication date: March 1, 2003


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