All human communication involves the use of signs. By following a mutually shared set of signs and rules, meaning can be conveyed from one entity to another. Cartographic semiology provides such a theoretical framework, suggesting how to apply visual variables with respect to thematic content. However, semiotics does not address how the choice and composition of such visual variables may lead to different connotations, interpretations, or judgments. The research herein aimed to identify perceived similarities between geometric shape symbols as well as strategies and processes underlying these similarity judgments. Based on a user study with 38 participants, the (dis)similarities of a set of 12 basic geometric shapes (e.g., circle, triangle, square) were examined. Findings from cluster analysis revealed a three-cluster configuration, while multidimensional scaling further quantified the proximities between the geometric shapes in a two-dimensional space. Qualitative and quantitative content analyses identified four strategies underlying the participants’ similarity judgments, namely visual, affective, associative, and behavioral strategies. With the findings combined, this research provides a differentiated perspective on shape proximities, cognitive relations, and the processes involved.
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