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Using Eye Tracking to Explore Differences in Map-Based Spatial Ability between Geographers and Non-Geographers

Beijing Key Laboratory for Remote Sensing of Environment and Digital Cities, Research Center of Geospatial Cognition and Visual Analytics and Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
Chair of Cartography, Technical University of Munich, 80333 Munich, Germany
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2018, 7(9), 337;
Received: 3 July 2018 / Revised: 8 August 2018 / Accepted: 20 August 2018 / Published: 22 August 2018
PDF [3940 KB, uploaded 22 August 2018]


In this article, we use eye-tracking methods to analyze the differences in spatial ability between geographers and non-geographers regarding topographic maps, as reflected in the following three aspects: map-based spatial localization, map-based spatial orientation, and map-based spatial visualization. We recruited 32 students from Beijing Normal University (BNU) and divided them into groups of geographers and non-geographers based on their major. In terms of their spatial localization ability, geographers had shorter response times, higher fixation frequencies, and fewer saccades than non-geographers, and the differences were significant. For their spatial orientation ability, compared to non-geographers, geographers had significantly lower response times, lower fixation counts and fewer saccades as well as significantly higher fixation frequencies. In terms of their spatial visualization ability, geographers’ response times were significantly shorter than those of non-geographers, but there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of fixation count, fixation frequency or saccade count. We also found that compared to geographers, non-geographers usually spent more time completing these tasks. The results of this study are helpful in improving the map-based spatial ability of users of topographic maps. View Full-Text
Keywords: eye tracking; knowledge background; spatial ability; map cognition eye tracking; knowledge background; spatial ability; map cognition

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Dong, W.; Zheng, L.; Liu, B.; Meng, L. Using Eye Tracking to Explore Differences in Map-Based Spatial Ability between Geographers and Non-Geographers. ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2018, 7, 337.

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