Is simpler always better? Effects of perceptual detail and viewpoint on spatial cognition and metacognition

Christopher A. Stevens, Richard A. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


When making spatial judgments, people tend to prefer to use artifacts and displays with a high level of perceptual detail or realism. Sometimes, increasing detail is helpful. But sometimes it leads to an information overload that degrades performance. Very little prior research has examined the effect of perceptual detail on orientation judgments. Such judgments require a person to flexibly adopt various novel viewpoints within a space. We hypothesized that perceptual details would help people construct flexible representations of a novel space and that people would be more confident when perceptual information was available at study. Sixty participants memorized a map of a novel location, made judgments of relative direction, and gave confidence estimates about those judgments; one group studied a high-detail satellite map and the other studied a low-detail schematic map. People who studied the high-detail map were more confident and accurate in their later judgments about the map. Overall, the study suggests that perceptually vivid maps may improve performance and confidence in spatial judgments about a newly learned space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-302
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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