Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Farther and farther apart: The more you know a place, the more likely your memory will play spatial tricks

Date:
February 18, 2011
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
A new study has shown that something may be happening cognitively that leads people to gradually become more biased, and at the same time more accurate, when it comes to their spatial memory as they become more familiar with a particular area. In other words, as people better understand the relationship between buildings on a campus, for example, over time memory biases cause them to exaggerate the distance.

Using Northwestern University students, a new study shows that as students better understand the relationship between buildings on a campus, for example, over time memory biases cause them to exaggerate the distance between the north and south ends of campus.
Credit: Image courtesy of Northwestern University

Many suburbanites remember a time when they were once city dwellers. For a time many returned to the city for dining, cultural and entertainment purposes. But over time the suburbs and "the city" seemed much farther apart thereby resulting in less frequent trips.

A new Northwestern University study is the first to show that something may be happening cognitively that leads people to gradually become more biased, and at the same time more accurate, when it comes to their spatial memory as they become more familiar with a particular area.

In other words, as people better understand the relationship between buildings on a campus, for example, over time memory biases cause them to exaggerate the distance between the north and south ends of campus. They become more and more biased and see the boundaries of campus as being much farther apart.

David Uttal, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, along with colleague Alinda Friedman at the University of Alberta, are lead authors of the study. They witnessed firsthand how this plays out among students on the Northwestern campus.

"I've had students tell me that they may be a few minutes late for class because they are coming all the way from south campus," Uttal said. "And I'm thinking, 'It's only a six-minute walk.'

"Another time I overheard a student say, 'This better be good, because I don't go to north campus for nothing.'

"That really intrigued me because if you look at a map it's not at all clear where these divisions are," said Uttal. "There are north and south ends of campus but treating it like a really sharp division, like a foreign world, it's not justified based solely on geography. I think there is something really interesting going on here cognitively."

There have been other studies demonstrating the existence of spatial biases and how they affect spatial judgments, but Uttal said there were never studies about how such biases developed and how they were learned.

By studying Northwestern freshmen over three quarters and comparing them to seniors, Uttal said two significant findings emerged.

First, Uttal said, "We can get simultaneously more accurate and more biased at the same time, which seems counterintuitive, but it really shows how different kinds of information are stored and thought about differently in the mind."

Secondly, Uttal and his colleagues were able to establish a time-course for when these biases develop, concluding that when people are new to an area, they are not inherently biased. They develop biases as they become more familiar with their surroundings.

However, it is still unclear how people acquire information that lead to such biases.

"Part of it has to be somewhat cultural - so as you become more part of a group, a 'northsider' or 'southsider' if you will, you hear more about these distinctions," Uttal said. "It's also kind of an interaction between what you learn from other people and what you learn on your own."

Uttal said the study's findings have implications for both the Northwestern University community and society at large.

"One of the goals of our campus is to bring people closer together and establish community," he said. "However, it is possible that people's cognitive biases could actually make this hard. If people start to think of different areas on campus as being farther apart as they get more involved in Northwestern, then it might actually be harder to get people to think about 'One Northwestern' the longer they are here."

In addition, the study's findings may have desegregation implications.

"As other researchers have shown, in segregated areas, people may tend to believe that they are farther apart than they really are," Uttal said. "And if we're trying to bring people together, we have to address the cognitive biases that they create. You tend to see the area that you're close to as closer and the areas that are socially and cognitively further from you as being geographically farther. "


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. The original article was written by Hilary Hurd Anyaso. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. H. Uttal, A. Friedman, L. L. Hand, C. Warren. Learning fine-grained and category information in navigable real-world space. Memory & Cognition, 2010; 38 (8): 1026 DOI: 10.3758/MC.38.8.1026

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Farther and farther apart: The more you know a place, the more likely your memory will play spatial tricks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110118101525.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2011, February 18). Farther and farther apart: The more you know a place, the more likely your memory will play spatial tricks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110118101525.htm
Northwestern University. "Farther and farther apart: The more you know a place, the more likely your memory will play spatial tricks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110118101525.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Researchers say women who diet at a young age are at greater risk of developing harmful health habits, including eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins