Mental Maps and Route Finding

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LongLiveTheDutch
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Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby LongLiveTheDutch » Tue Dec 29, 2009 3:40 pm UTC

I was driving across town the other day, after dropping my sister off at a friends, and I had to make a choice of two routes to take to get to my next location. Both routes would have gotten me to where I wanted to go, and neither was immediately faster in my mind.

When I thought about which route to take, I found myself visualising travelling down the two and seemed to take them both at the same time. Before going down even a km down either road in my mind, I had decided the fastest route and took it. I was surprised because instead of imagining a map in my head I went by way points and landmarks.

So, xkcd, how do you visualise travel routes? Maps? Abstracts? Otter? Duck?

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby philsov » Tue Dec 29, 2009 7:11 pm UTC

Usually an abstract map with just the two travel lines, that I then usually compare and go with the shorter one. Never really visualize a full blown map with streetnames and whatnot.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby guale » Tue Dec 29, 2009 8:31 pm UTC

I can only visualize one route to a place unless I really struggle but I visualize it from an overhead perspective.

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Nomic » Tue Dec 29, 2009 9:43 pm UTC

I'm horrible at finding my way anywhere I haven't been to. If I know the location of the place in relation to some landmarks, I should be able to navigate there just fine, tho.

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby EvilDuckie » Wed Dec 30, 2009 9:01 am UTC

Map. But I'm a very geographically-oriented person (heck, I make maps for a living). Even when I'm in a new place for the first time I have a basic idea of where I am in relation to major landmarks.

This presentation by one of my mapping buddies may be of interest.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby SlyReaper » Wed Dec 30, 2009 4:04 pm UTC

I go by waypoints. I look on the map at the towns I'm going to pass through, and I just follow signs to the next town. And hope that when I get to that town, there will be signs to the town after that.

This doesn't work in London.
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AJR
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby AJR » Wed Dec 30, 2009 7:13 pm UTC

I navigate round London by routes I know between landmarks, with the map sometimes being needed for the last bit from landmark to destination. This does sometimes fail when I give car drivers directions that rely on bike cut-throughs. Slightly embarrassing when from the back seat of the car I have to say to my dad "Oh, that's a cycle lane, isn't it? Pass the map." :oops:

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby SlyReaper » Wed Dec 30, 2009 9:56 pm UTC

Meh I was actually talking about Greater London which is somewhat sparse in landmarks compared to Central London. I actually found two roads which intersected each other and had the same designation A20something. I knew I wanted to be on the A20something and was on it, and got very angry when I discovered there was another A20something and I was on the wrong one. I was also stuck driving in circles in Croydon for a long time because there were no signs to my next waypoint less than 3 miles away.

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby PatrickRsGhost » Thu Dec 31, 2009 2:33 am UTC

I tend to go by landmarks more than the actual road, but once I've traveled that stretch of road enough, I can visualize the road, and even predict which way would be faster.

I tend to use restaurants or grocery stores as landmarks more than anything else. Sometimes I'll use other buildings, if it has a unique shape or if the company housed in that building has a unique name. One such building that I don't ever see, but is well-known by just about everyone in the Atlanta area, primarily the city of Marietta, is the Big Chicken. While in Marietta, if you ask for directions to any place, don't be surprised if the directions include the words "Big" and "Chicken" in any context, usually in the same sentence. And "Chicken" always follows "Big".

I have to drive a long distance daily to get to and from work. I can use all the shortcuts and alternates I can get, because the one main way is never reliable. There is one congested area that seems to back up for a couple of miles before the exit I have to get off at to get from one highway to another.

A few months ago I noticed a bunch of vehicles getting off at an exit right before this congested area, including one that had a tag with a county near where I live, that I was familiar with. I used him as my guide, and followed every move he made. While I was paying attention to him, I was making a mental note of the landmarks and some of the intersections we passed through. Soon I had parts of downtown Atlanta I had only heard of or seen on the radio or TV, including the Georgia Capitol building (often referred to as "the Gold Dome"), and a couple of well-known streets. After a few twists and turns, we got onto the other highway I wanted to get to.

About two months after that I got off at that same exit, but followed a different vehicle, which took a different route. This route was shorter, and got us back onto the same highway we just got off of, but bypassed the congested area, and got us right up on the exit to get to the other highway. I liked this route better, because it was shorter, had fewer lights, and actually saved about ten minutes, that would have been spent stuck in that congestion.

Last month I found a route that I don't remember too much of, mainly because I had only taken it once. The exit I took to get from one highway to another on the way to work was pretty much fucked, so I had to keep going. I knew there was another exit to another highway that would have gotten me to work, but our lovely local department of transportation had a message on one of their overhead signs that said that exit was fucked up too. I then saw an exit come up that had a highway number I recognized from another exit close to work. I decided to get off at that exit, and based on my sense of direction, I turned left to go north on this highway, followed a few signs that showed how to stay on this highway, and finally made it back to the main highway I wanted to get on in the first place. This route added about 10 minutes to my commute, made me a bit late for work, but they're pretty lenient at my work: they know I drive a fucking long distance, and if I'm late, it's not always my fault.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Poochy » Thu Dec 31, 2009 1:12 pm UTC

I seem to have two concurrent systems:

First, for places I visit or travel through frequently, are mental networks of nodes. Each intersection, destination, and landmark is a node, stored as one or more mental snapshots, with each path out of the intersection being a link to the next node I would get to by taking that path. Each link is one-way, although most links come in pairs, one for each direction. This makes it easier to account for one-way streets, as well two-way streets where each direction has a different traffic pattern (for example, highways lanes leading into a downtown area are more likely to be congested during morning rush hour, while those coming out are more likely to be congested during the afternoon rush hour). I find that this makes it easier for me to find the fastest path given variable conditions, such as deciding whether to wait out a red light and go straight forward, or take a right turn instead, when both would get me to my destination. Worse memory efficiency as a trade-off for better runtime efficiency, basically.

My second system is simply an overhead map, primarily for places I'm not as familiar with. Think of those dungeon maps many video games have which show just the explored areas, and unexplored paths just fade into whatever the background color is. This one's easier for me to quickly encode data into, but I'm more likely to take a sub-optimal route given the same amount of time to think, and trying to compensate for a missed turn or a blocked road is harder and takes longer to think through - better memory efficiency for worse runtime efficiency.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Bhelliom » Thu Dec 31, 2009 2:46 pm UTC

What I find interesting is that I can travel along a route once and forever add the route to my mental map. When giving directions I can mentally visualize the whole route in my head, travel along it mentally while describing every turn and landmark. The catch is that if the route is traveled as a passenger or a driver receiving directions, It will not stick. I have to be actively finding the route on my own to make the fog-of-war disappear. Guess the mapping section of my brain is lazy.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby LongLiveTheDutch » Thu Dec 31, 2009 5:18 pm UTC

Bhelliom wrote:What I find interesting is that I can travel along a route once and forever add the route to my mental map. When giving directions I can mentally visualize the whole route in my head, travel along it mentally while describing every turn and landmark. The catch is that if the route is traveled as a passenger or a driver receiving directions, It will not stick. I have to be actively finding the route on my own to make the fog-of-war disappear. Guess the mapping section of my brain is lazy.


I suffer from this as well. I have to actively concentrate if I'm a passenger and want to remember how to get wherever. This is especially bad for suburbs I have never been to before.

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Thu Dec 31, 2009 10:28 pm UTC

SlyReaper wrote:London Venice: the least car-friendly city in the world. Thank God I don't live there.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby SlyReaper » Fri Jan 01, 2010 5:13 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
SlyReaper wrote:London Venice: the least car-friendly city in the world. Thank God I don't live there.


Are you joking? I would sell my left testicle for the chance to live in Venice. I obviously wouldn't take the car of course.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Bobber » Sun Jan 03, 2010 7:52 pm UTC

I visualize Google Earth-like images taken from miles above the area in high detail. I can also rotate it and stuff.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby KrazyerKate » Sun Jan 03, 2010 8:16 pm UTC

LongLiveTheDutch wrote:
Bhelliom wrote:What I find interesting is that I can travel along a route once and forever add the route to my mental map. When giving directions I can mentally visualize the whole route in my head, travel along it mentally while describing every turn and landmark. The catch is that if the route is traveled as a passenger or a driver receiving directions, It will not stick. I have to be actively finding the route on my own to make the fog-of-war disappear. Guess the mapping section of my brain is lazy.


I suffer from this as well. I have to actively concentrate if I'm a passenger and want to remember how to get wherever. This is especially bad for suburbs I have never been to before.


My parents look at me weird whenever I'm driving with them and I yell "Stop giving me directions!". Now I know I'm not alone.

I don't remember street names very well, but instead learn routes. Like, I know how to get to my family's church just because I did it for three years. I visited a friend's house for the first time the other day, and, instead of learning the path by a series of "go up highway X and take the Y exit" statements, I remembered "act like you're going to church but turn right instead of left at intersection Z".

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Glo » Tue Jan 05, 2010 10:38 pm UTC

I enjoy enterntaining myself while travelling somewhere (for some choosen destination and already picked and known route) with imagining as clear as I can all details of forthcoming route. For example being on a subway train I build in mind how I go out on my station, walk to place I'm to get to. Doing this you definetely can realize details of surrounding set-up but its hard to get such details as concrete faces of people. You just visualize a place being some crowded.

Anyway, it's fun!

If the place is unknown for me I'm trying to figure out my way before heading for, and then I just follow it, thinking about something else (and listening music, of course).

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Splendid » Tue Jan 05, 2010 11:38 pm UTC

I think it depends. It's usually from above, but I can see the landmarks as I travel (from above) down the road I'm on. Also, I usually estimate distances using minutes. Not longitude/latitude minutes, but time minutes. And I'm pretty good at it.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Rinsaikeru » Tue Jan 05, 2010 11:40 pm UTC

I definitely use landmarks, cardinal directions and street names are secondary to my navigation--but I'm typically a pedestrian.

Also: I tend to know the city as a group of islands, that is I know pockets of the city and don't always connect between pockets consistently. That is, I won't know how to navigate from one to another--or I will be able to get there but will come up facing the wrong way. When I walk from Queen West to the Annex I always expect to come up on the other side of Bloor. Ummm that probably doesn't make too much sense if you don't know the street names. Queen and Bloor are parallel East-West streets. I expect to turn up on say the North side and am on the South side...or vice versa. I should get a compass.

I am good if I have a map though. I've got a good memory for landmarks and geographical features. I can find my way to somewhere I've been before.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Kidiri » Thu Jan 07, 2010 11:52 am UTC

KrazyerKate wrote:
Bhelliom wrote:What I find interesting is that I can travel along a route once and forever add the route to my mental map. When giving directions I can mentally visualize the whole route in my head, travel along it mentally while describing every turn and landmark. The catch is that if the route is traveled as a passenger or a driver receiving directions, It will not stick. I have to be actively finding the route on my own to make the fog-of-war disappear. Guess the mapping section of my brain is lazy.

I don't remember street names very well, but instead learn routes. Like, I know how to get to my family's church just because I did it for three years. I visited a friend's house for the first time the other day, and, instead of learning the path by a series of "go up highway X and take the Y exit" statements, I remembered "act like you're going to church but turn right instead of left at intersection Z".

This. Very, very much. Even when I'm cycling along. My main concern is just following the person I'm following. Should I somehow not know where I'm in the city, I try to go by landmarks: I know where I am in relation to certain landmarks, and I know where my destination is in relation to certain landmarks. I then envision a map with a rough location of where I am. This then enables me to follow a certain route which mostly seems correct. Note that these are few, but large landmarks: the Scheldt, the main river, the Cathedral and (depending on where I am) the Boerentoren. If I can see other landmarks (mostly churches), I'll try and orientate myself accordingly.
Also, when someone asks me directions (and it's obvious they're from out of town), I tend to give the easiest route with the least turns as possible, opposed to the shortest route.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby embolalia » Mon Jan 11, 2010 9:46 pm UTC

I have maps of certain sections of an area, and then different ways to get between them. So I have a map for the area near the mall, a map for the area near my old high school, a map for the area near where I work, a map each for the east and west sides of my college campus, and so on. And then each of these maps is treated as a point on a larger map, connected by one or more major routes. So to get from one to another, I go from the point within the map to a certain exit from that map, and then take the pre-determined map-to-map route. I kind of have a hard time explaining it without a graphic...

Also, each of these map-to-map routes is an unbreakable unit. To try and explain, there are three roads leading south out of Albany, I-87, NY144, and US9W. Where they leave the city, they are all within one mile of each other, and very easy to get between. When I'm starting out near this point, for example when leaving my old high school, I will choose freely between the three. But if I'm starting in downtown, for example, I will always take NY144, even though the entrance to I-87 is seconds away. Basically, there is a line from downtown to home, rather than a line from downtown to this intersection area to home.

Also, the maps don't always mesh properly. For example, there is a perfectly easy route to get from my downtown map to my southern Albany map via a major surface road, but I find myself taking the longer highway route because it puts me into my southern Albany map in the place that I'm used to.

Within each local map, I see a mixture of map lines and landmarks, depending on the area. For example, on my malls/Wolf Road/Airport map, I see almost entirely roads with few landmarks. But my home/south Bethlehem map has nearly no roads, with a lot of landmarks, and the roads I do see are more as images than lines.

So on the route to a given place, I can be using images, maps, and abstracts all the way through.

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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby crickets » Mon Jan 11, 2010 10:14 pm UTC

I travel soely by repetition. I know one way to get everywhere in the city i live in, and i will always go that way. Even if i have someone in the passenger's seat who wants to navigate by a different route, i will go the way i know. It's not so much a mental map as it is playing certainty against uncertainty, though i do tend to visualize my route as i take it, so i know if something doesn't "feel" right, but it's not really a vision thing, more a tactile one. I've also had heaps of trouble driving somewhere during the day if i'm only used to going there at night, and vice versa. I've gotten quite a bit better, but unless i've got lots and lots of spare time and it's very late at night, i'm going to do things the same way. I even always park at the same place in the parking lot of any mall i go to. I'm just... direct.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby DJorgensen » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:44 am UTC

crickets wrote:I travel soely by repetition. I know one way to get everywhere in the city i live in, and i will always go that way. Even if i have someone in the passenger's seat who wants to navigate by a different route, i will go the way i know. It's not so much a mental map as it is playing certainty against uncertainty, though i do tend to visualize my route as i take it, so i know if something doesn't "feel" right, but it's not really a vision thing, more a tactile one. I've also had heaps of trouble driving somewhere during the day if i'm only used to going there at night, and vice versa. I've gotten quite a bit better, but unless i've got lots and lots of spare time and it's very late at night, i'm going to do things the same way. I even always park at the same place in the parking lot of any mall i go to. I'm just... direct.

Not sure if you've ever noticed with me, but I will park in a specific place at a mall, depending upon how I approach it.

As for me, I tend to study maps make a route in my head and stick to it. Since I loathe traffic a great deal, if I can find a better route I adapt and move to that. I have terrific direction sense and find my way really quite well. For new cities, there is always the GPS in my phone to help me out too. When I make it to a place once, I can usually back track the same route out - or if I know the area find a better way out, and rarely forget how to return there. I typically work on a combination of landmarks and street addresses.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby RoadieRich » Mon Jan 18, 2010 4:33 am UTC

I have a sort of map in my mind. I usually get very lost unless I have a map to follow round places I've never been to, however, I can form a pretty good mental map just by looking at overhead photos the night before.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby '; DROP DATABASE;-- » Tue Jan 19, 2010 7:45 am UTC

I actually memorize, in pretty good detail, the entire route and mentally fly through it. Like mental Google Earth with the 3D view and all. It's harder to recall some areas, especially from certain angles, and sometimes it takes a minute to recall the route between two points, but the detail remains pretty good many years later.

I go entirely by landmarks. I can live somewhere for 10 years and still not have a damn clue what any of the streets are named, save for a couple important ones like the ones I've lived on. I don't even look at them.
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Re: Mental Maps and Route Finding

Postby Earlz » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:33 am UTC

I usually decide the first time I take two roads to the same place which one is faster and which one is less distance.

I almost always imagine more than 4 landmarks and my estimates of the distance taken to get to each one and the speed at which I can drive on an average...

Of course, there is always tom tom too lol
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