Posts Tagged ‘menno-jan’

Cognition’s Role in Geovisulation Research Programs

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

In their article outlining the research challenges faced by the field of Geovisualization, Alan MacEachren and Menno-Jan Kraak pose the problem of cognition as a direct relationship between how external, dynamic visual representations can “serve as prompts for creation and use of mental representations” (7). They note that the existing lack of paradigms for how to conduct research into the cognitive processes at work in geovisualization projects or into their usability as a major problem in this field. However, I wonder if this doesn’t put the cart before the horse.

Much of the existing research into geospatial cognition seeks to understand how the human mind works in processing spatial data, particularly how such data is acquired, processed and translated into knowledge. Before we can hope to create user interfaces utilizing geovisualization techniques, shouldn’t we follow this approach and attempt to understand how these digital interfaces might impact cognition of spatial data? The authors set out the goals of establishing a cognitive theory that supports and assess the usability of “methods for geovisualization” and those that take advantage of dynamic, animated displays (7). Yet this feels like we are trying to support the cognition of a new field without trying to understand how it actually impacts cognition.

The danger of such an approach is that we are simply writing theory to support pre-articulated goals. Shouldn’t we instead start from a blank slate and then ask what types of cognitive impacts geovisualization might have for how the public processes geospatial data? For example, one researcher into geospatial cognition found that people who learn geographic data from maps as opposed to experiential data (as in navigating an environment) often had better recall of the data and more accurate perceptions of spatial relationships. Shouldn’t we try to first figure out how cognition of geovisualized data fits into this paradigm before just drafting a research agenda for it?