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Area Estimation of World Regions and the Projection of the Global-Scale Cognitive Map

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For global-scale geographic information, there are relatively few sources that can be used to form or structure a cognitive map. One of the most common sources for this information is maps, the only reference that permits an individual a comprehensive view of the world without having to integrate information from multiple views (e.g., stitching together the two halves of a globe or assembling the pages of an atlas). It has been frequently stated that visual experience with the map projections used for global-scale mapping, specifically the Mercator projection, has a strong influence on the shape and structure of an individual's global-scale cognitive map. In this article, we examine this belief by conducting two studies on the relationship between memory- and inference-derived estimates of land area and the actual land areas of regions on the Earth. Numerical and graphical estimation techniques were used to obtain area estimates. We examined the results for relationships between distortion in estimated area and area as displayed in common map projections such as the Mercator projection, as well as for general trends in the estimation patterns. Nonequal area projections, particularly the Mercator projection, were found not to have much if any influence on the shape of participants' cognitive maps. Instead, we found estimates to be fairly accurate relative to actual area, and that the estimation pattern most clearly reflected standard trends in psychophysical estimation.

Keywords: Mercator projection; area psychophysics; cognitive map; spatial memory

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, 2: Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara

Publication date: 2009-04-01

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