PATHS WITH MORE TURNS ARE PERCEIVED AS LONGER: MISPERCEPTIONS WITH MAP-BASED AND ABSTRACTED PATH STIMULI1, 2

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Abstract

When navigating, people tend to overestimate distances when routes contain more turns, termed the route-angularity effect. Three experiments examined the source and generality of this effect. The first two experiments examined whether route-angularity effects occur while viewing maps and might be related to sex differences or sense of direction. The third experiment tested whether the route-angularity effect would occur with stimuli devoid of spatial context, reducing influences of environmental experience and visual complexity. In the three experiments, participants (N = 1,552; M = 32.2 yr.; 992 men, 560 women) viewed paths plotted on maps (Exps. 1 and 2) or against a blank background (Exp. 3). The depicted paths were always the same overall length, but varied in the number of turns (from 1 to 7) connecting an origin and destination. Participants were asked to estimate the time to traverse each path (Exp. 1) or the length of each path (Exps. 2 and 3). The Santa Barbara Sense of Direction questionnaire was administered to assess whether overall spatial sense of direction would be negatively related to the magnitude of the route-angularity effect. Repeated-measures analyses of variance (ANOVAs) indicated that paths with more turns elicited estimates of greater distance and travel times, whether they were depicted on maps or blank backgrounds. Linear regressions also indicated that these effects were significantly larger in those with a relatively low sense of direction. The results support the route-angularity effect and extend it to paths plotted on map-based stimuli. Furthermore, because the route-angularity effect was shown with paths plotted against blank backgrounds, route-angularity effects are not specific to understanding environments and may arise at the level of visual perception.

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