Exploring the Effects of Geographic Scale on Spatial Learning

Jiayan Zhao, Mark Simpson, Jan Oliver Wallgrün, Pejman Sajjadi, Alexander Klippel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Investigating the relationship between the human body and its spatial environment is a critical component in understanding the process of acquiring spatial knowledge. However, few empirical evaluations have looked at how the visual accessibility of an environment affects spatial learning. To address this gap, this paper focuses on geographic scale, defined as the spatial extent visually accessible from a single viewpoint. We present two experiments in which we manipulated geographic scale using two perspectives, a ground level and an elevated view, in order to better understand the scale effect on spatial learning. Learning outcomes were measured using estimates of direction and self-reports of mental workload. Results: In contrast to our hypothesis, we found few differences in spatial learning when comparing different perspectives. However, our analysis of pointing errors shows a significant interaction effect between the scale and spatial ability: The elevated perspective reduced the differences in pointing errors between low and high spatial ability participants in contrast to when participants learned the environment at ground level alone. Bimodal pointing distributions indicate that participants made systematic errors, for example, forgetting turns or segments. Modeling these errors revealed a unified alternative representation of the environment and further suggests that low spatial ability participants benefited more from the elevated perspective in terms of spatial learning compared to high spatial ability participants. Conclusions: We conclude that an increased geographic scale, which was accessible through an elevated perspective in this study, can help bridge the performance gap in spatial learning between low and high spatial ability participants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Exploring the Effects of Geographic Scale on Spatial Learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this