Faculty Projects

Who We Are

The Spatial and Map Cognition Research Lab.

What We Do

We study map use, navigation, and spatial thinking primarily. We use multiple measurement tools, including traditional laboratory and in-field behavioral methods as well as fMRI and eye-tracking. 

Where We Do It

SMCRL is a part of the Department of Geography at the University of Oregon - Eugene.

Using fMRI to investigate neural patterns associated with map tasks and successful navigation

This is an on-going, multi-year project being conducted with Amy Lobben (Department of Geography, University of Oregon) Judy Olson (Department of Geography, Michigan State University), Megan Lawrence, PhD candidate (Department of Geography, University of Oregon) and Jie Huang (Department of Radiology, Michigan State University).

Most of us know people who seem to navigate intuitively and know other people who, well, are less successful navigators. The objective of this study is to identify whether brain biology (i.e. neural patterns) may explain these differences in navigational map reading success.

Our methodology involved utilizing an instrument created by Amy lobben (see link to paper below). The computer-administered instrument successfully measures 4 map use tasks associated with navigation. Moreover, the instrument predicts successful navigation, based on performance on a "self-location" task. We used this test to identify "good" and "bad" navigators. From the computer-administered instrument, we developed instrumentation that was deliverable in a scanner. We then collected fMRI data from both groups of subjects to determine whether neurological differences are evident between the groups. In addition, we are comparing the best navigation predictor task against another significant, yet less influential navigation task, map rotation. Our objective is to determine, again, whether neurological differences are evident between the tasks.

Preliminary results have been presented in the following papers:

Olson, Judy M. and Amy Lobben. “An Experimental Study Comparing Two Map Tasks Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. April 2005. Denver.

Lobben, Amy K., Judy M. Olson, Jie Huang (2005),  ‘Using fMRI in Cartographic Research’,  Proceedings of the 22nd International Cartographic Conference: A Coruna, Spain.  [PDF]

Related Papers:

Lobben, Amy K. (2007),  ‘Navigational map reading: Predicting performance and identifying relative influence of map-related abilities’,  Annals of the Association of American Geographers.  97 (1),  64-85.  [PDF] [DOI]

Lawrence, Megan, Amy Lobben, and Judy M. Olson. “Images of the Geographical Brain: The Use of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Studying Spatial Tasks.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. April 2005. Denver.

Identifying tasks, strategies, and spatial abilities associated with successful navigation

More than a specific project, this is one of Amy Lobben's primary research agendas. The objective is to identify not just whether someone can read and use a map, not just to identify the level of success of that use, but to identfiy the causal factors affecting that success. In other words, the objective of this research is to identify why some people are effective map users and others are not. Navigation is a profoundly important activity and affects the lives of people who are not able to conduct this activity effectively and efficiently.

Because reliability and validity assessments are important when making inferences from data collected through instruments designed to "measure" a human ability (i.e. the extent to which a sit-down test actually measures or predicts successful navigation), the experimental methods include both assessments, with field trials often used as means to evaluate the criterion validity of sit-down tests. The primary methods for investigation in navigational map use-related projects include in-laboratory measures of spatial abilities, map use, and confidence, together with in-environmental measures of real-world task performance. Navigating with a map is a very complex task and includes several sub-tasks. One of Amy's research goals is to identify the sub-tasks, measure performance on these tasks, identify strategy use, the effect of spatial abilties on strategy selection, and the influence of spatial abilities and task performance on overall navigational map use.

Results have been presented in the following papers:

Lobben, Amy K. (2007),  ‘Navigational map reading: Predicting performance and identifying relative influence of map-related abilities’,  Annals of the Association of American Geographers.  97 (1),  64-85.  [PDF] [DOI]

Lobben, Amy K. (2004),  ‘Tasks, strategies, and cognitive processes associated with navigational map reading: A review perspective’,  The Professional Geographer  56 (2),  270-281.  [PDF] [DOI]

Olson, Judy M. and Amy Lobben (2003),  ‘Strategy Issues in Map Use for Way-Finding ’,  Cartographic Renaissance: Proceedings of the 21st International Cartographic Conference: Durban, South Africa. 

Olson, Judy M. and Amy Lobben. “An Experimental Study Comparing Two Map Tasks Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. April 2005. Denver.

Lobben, Amy K., Judy M. Olson, Jie Huang (2005),  ‘Using fMRI in Cartographic Research’,  Proceedings of the 22nd International Cartographic Conference: A Coruna, Spain.  [PDF]

Behavioral and neurological analysis of mental rotation in sighted and blind subject populations

This is a multi-year, multi-phase project involving Amy Lobben, Megan Lawrence and Ann Laudati. Our investigation focuses on the relationship between mental rotation of geometric objects, maps with text, maps without text, complex geometry, and text alone. We have conducted both behavioral studies using computer- and printed tactile-administered instruments as well as fMRI studies. For the behavioral study, we developed a test instrument administered through Macromedia Flash, recording reaction time and correct/incorrect responses for questions in each of the five categories of rotation. An example of the map without text task is below. Following, standard protocol, subjects were asked to determine whether the object on the right has been rotated only or flipped and rotated (a mirror image rotated).

Map Rotation

Over 200 volunteers have participated in the behavioral testing. Analysis of the results reveal significantly different reactions times for each of the four categories (excluding text alone, which was not significantly different from any other variable). These initial results could show that mentally rotating a map is a different task than mentally rotating a geometric object, or even a map with text. Moreover, these results show that using traditional psychometric tests of mental rotation for proxies of spatial ability as applied to map use ability may not be valid methods/instruments for such applications

For the fMRI stage, we recruited 20 volunteers based on their performance patterns on the behavioral test. Analysis is underway, but initial results support the behavioral study results and suggest that significanlty different neurological patterns are observed for rotation of the different objects.

Preliminary results have been presented in the following papers:

Neurological data are still being analyzed. Results have not yet been formally disseminated.

Route and Survey Memory Acquired Through Visual and Tactile Modalities with Sighted and Blind Map Users - Behavioral and fMRI Analysis

This is an on-going, multi-year project being conducted with Amy Lobben (Department of Geography, University of Oregon) Megan Lawrence, PhD candidate (Department of Geography, University of Oregon) Dan Montello (Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara) and Nick Giudice (Spatial Information Science and Engineering, University of Maine).

In this project, we are investigating the behavioral and neural correlates associated with acquiring route and survey knowledge from maps.  We combine traditional computer-based testing to identify behavioral differences/similarities between route/survey knowledge with functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify whether these differences and similarities are associated with neural patterns.  In addition, we are investigating whether route and survey knowledge acquired from visual maps maintains similar behavioral and neural patterns as knowledge acquired from functionally equivalent tactile maps.

Preliminary results have been presented in the following papers:

this is a new project, results have not yet been disseminated.

Tactile Mapping and Navigation with travelers who are blind or low vision

This research area also includes on-going, multi-year projects (three projects discussed below). Most of the projects discussed below are supported by a grant from NSF-HRD-Research in Disabilities Education (grant #0533251) and include Amy Lobben and Stephen Fickas (Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Oregon), with PhD research assistants, Megan Lawrence and Xiangkui Yao.

Project 1: Evaluating and measuring tactile map use and navigation: This project is also supported by NSF #533251. Amy Lobben and Megan Lawrence are conducting laboratory and field studies of tactile map use and navigation with blind and low vision travelers. Our methods include: measures of spatial ability, confidence measures, route and survey memory tasks, and real-world (in-field) map use and navigation data collection. Our objectives are to identify the tasks (and task performance) that affects navigation with tactile maps.

Preliminary results have been presented in the following papers:

Lobben, Amy, Stephen Fickas, Megan Lawrence, Xiangkui Yao. "Tactile Mapping Software for Blind and Low Vision Science Education. Presented at: the NSF-HRD Joint Annual Meeting. August 2007. Washington DC.

Lawrence Megan and Amy Lobben. “Tactile Symbols.” Presented at the annual meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society. October 2006. Madison, Wisconsin

Lawrence, Megan McNally and Amy Lobben. “Tactile Map Use During Laboratory and Navigational Exercises.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers. September 2006. Eugene, Oregon.

Lobben, Amy and Megan McNally Lawrence. “Hierarchy of Symbol Needs for Tactile Navigation Maps.” Presented at AutoCarto 2006. June 2006. Vancouver, Washington.

Related Papers:

Jacobson, Dan, Amy Lobben, Reginald Golledge, and Matt Rice. (In Press),  ‘Reflections on Past, Present, and Future of Tactile Cartography’,  to appear in Cartography and Geographic Information Science. 

Lawrence, Megan and Amy Lobben. “Tactile Map Use and Spatial Abilities: A Neurological Approach.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. April 2007. San Francisco.

Lawrence, Megan McNally, Maureen Kelley, Amy Lobben. “Creating a Tactile Map of the University of Oregon. Presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. March 2006. Chicago, Illinois.

Project 2: Creating a standardized symbology for tactile navigation maps: This project is supported by NSF #0533251. Anyone who has used one or more topographic maps produced by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) understands the importance of standardization in symbology; throughout thousands of maps, the symbolization remains consistent, allowing the map user to concentrate on learning the geography, rather than the symbology. Also, even though road maps do not maintain the same rigid symbolization standards, conventions allow most people to relatively quickly and easily interpret the symbols (i.e. blue=water, black line=road...). But, such standardization (either rigid or convention) does not exist for tactile navigation maps. In this project, we have created a set of general use tactile symbols. The two-year process included: conducting national surveys (~140 respondents) through which we developed a set of environmental objects most in need of symbolization on tactile navigation maps; compiling the potential symbology by associating existing discriminable symbols with the environmental objects to be symbolized; and field testing, with the assistance of blind and low vision participants, the usability of the symbol set.

See larger view of symbol set here
Tactile Symbols

Preliminary results have been presented in the following papers:

Lobben, Amy, Stephen Fickas, Megan Lawrence, Xiangkui Yao. "Tactile Mapping Software for Blind and Low Vision Science Education. Presented at: the NSF-HRD Joint Annual Meeting. August 2007. Washington DC.

Lawrence Megan and Amy Lobben. “Tactile Symbols.” Presented at the annual meeting of the North American Cartographic Information Society. October 2006. Madison, Wisconsin

Lawrence, Megan McNally and Amy Lobben. “Tactile Map Use During Laboratory and Navigational Exercises.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers. September 2006. Eugene, Oregon.

Lobben, Amy and Megan McNally Lawrence. “Hierarchy of Symbol Needs for Tactile Navigation Maps.” Presented at AutoCarto 2006. June 2006. Vancouver, Washington.

Related Papers:

Jacobson, Dan, Amy Lobben, Reginald Golledge, and Matt Rice. (In Press),  ‘Reflections on Past, Present, and Future of Tactile Cartography’,  to appear in Cartography and Geographic Information Science. 

Lawrence, Megan and Amy Lobben. “Tactile Map Use and Spatial Abilities: A Neurological Approach.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. April 2007. San Francisco.

Lawrence, Megan McNally, Maureen Kelley, Amy Lobben. “Creating a Tactile Map of the University of Oregon. Presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. March 2006. Chicago, Illinois.

Project 3: Creating tactile mapping software This is a second project through the NSF-HRD-Research in Disabilities Education grant (#0533251). Stephen Fickas, Xiangkui Yao and Amy Lobben are creating software to be used for the creation of custom-authored tactile navigation maps. The standardized symbol set (see project above) is include as "drag-and-drop" symbology. The software is being authored with JAVA and will be free for download when complete. We are also creating tactile socioeconomic maps that will be downloadable pdf files, that will, again, be free for download.

We conducted the first workshop with the software in October 2007 at a fall conference hosted at the Oregon School for the Blind. We will begin BETA release in early 2008.

Preliminary results have been presented in the following papers:

Lobben, Amy and Xiangkui Yao. Workshop on Tactile Mapping Software. Presented at the Oregon School for the Blind, Step into Fall 2007. October 2007. Salem.

Behavioral and neurological analysis of mental rotation in sighted and blind subject populations

This is a multi-year, multi-phase project involving Amy Lobben, Megan Lawrence and Ann Laudati. Our investigation focuses on the relationship between mental rotation of geometric objects, maps with text, maps without text, and text alone. In a behavioral study, we developed a test instrument administered through Macromedia Flash, recording reaction time and correct/incorrect responses for 16 questions in each of the four categories of rotation. An example of the map without text task is below. Following, standard protocol, subjects were asked to determine whether the object on the right has been rotated only or flipped and rotated (a mirror image rotated).

Map Rotation

About 70 participants have taken the rotation test. Analysis is underway, but some of the initial analysis reveals significant differences between the rotation tasks. ANOVA results indicate that the tasks are significantly different. Strong confirmatory factor analysis results also reveal significantly different factors for the geometric, map with text, and map without text factors. These initial results could show that mentally rotating a map is a different task than mentally rotating a geometric object, or even a map with text. Moreover, these results show that using traditional psychometric tests of mental rotation for proxies of spatial ability as applied to map use ability may not be valid methods/instruments for such applications

The next phase of this project will involve behavioral testing with participants who are blind or low vision. We have created tactile versions of the test instrument used with the sighted subjects.

Following behavioral testing, we will administer the same instruments to subjects during fMRI scanning. Because the behavioral testing indicated that rotating a map is a different task than rotating a geometric object, we are anticipating that we will find different neurological patterns between tasks. Scanned subjects will include both sighted and blind participants.

Cross-disciplinary methods to investigate navigation

This is a multi-year, cross-disciplinary project that will develop and test methods for investigating navigation tasks, strategies, and abilities of travelers who are blind or low vision. This project is supported by the National Institutes of Health - National Institute On Drug Abuse (grant number R21DA024293). The project team includes: Stephen Fickas (PI), Amy Lobben (PI), and Margaret Sereno (PI).

Steve Fickas will contribute his expertise in wearable computing and navigation with cognitively impaired travelers (see Steve's webpage for description of related wearable computing projects www.cs.uoregon.edu/~fickas/) as well as his expertise in blind/low vision navigation. Amy Lobben will contribute expertise in creating test instruments to measure and predict successful navigation for sighted and blind travelers (see projects 2 and 3 above), her expertise in tactile maps and mapping (see project 3 above), and her expertise in utilizing fMRI to identify neural patterns associated with successful navigation and map-related tasks in both sighted and blind populations (see project 1 and 4 above). Margaret Sereno will contribute her expertise in fMRI experiment and analysis.

This is a newly-funded project. Results will be posted as available