Not All Map Use is Created Equal: Influence of Mapping Tasks on Children's Performance, Strategy Use, and Acquisition of Survey Knowledge

Open Access
Christensen, Adam Eric
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 29, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Lynn Susan Liben, Dissertation Advisor
  • Lynn Susan Liben, Committee Chair
  • Rick Owen Gilmore, Committee Member
  • Richard Alan Carlson, Committee Member
  • Alexander Klippel, Committee Member
  • Eric Loken, Committee Member
  • spatial cognition
  • developmental psychology
  • map
  • map-use strategies
  • constructivist theory
  • spatial ability
The ability to think and act spatially has a variety of implications for human functioning and survival. Maps are an important tool for both navigating through and learning about the environment. Better understanding of how maps influence our spatial thought will help us to develop more complete theories of spatial development and provide better spatial education. The present study investigated the following aspects of children’s map-use: (a) whether or not two different mapping tasks elicit similar performance and strategies from children, (b) if using a map results in better survey knowledge compared to not using a map, and (c) how individual differences in spatial ability relate to map-use performance. To address these issues, 9- to 10-year-old children (N = 58) were tested in one of three conditions: comprehension, production, or no-map. In the comprehension condition, children used a map marked with target locations and tried to place flags in the environment precisely at those target locations. In the production condition, children searched for flags in the environment and then placed stickers on a map to indicate the flags' locations. In the no-map condition, children searched for flags without a map in order to solve a riddle. After completing the search task in one of these three conditions, children completed measures of environmental survey knowledge and of spatial skills. Comprehension and production tasks were hypothesized to be conducive to different levels of strategy use during the task. Performance was expected to be affected by these different strategies. Specifically, it was predicted that the comprehension task would elicit greater map use (looking at, aligning, and touching the map), which would, in turn, lead to better performance. It was also predicted that children in either map condition (comprehension or production) would do better on measures of survey knowledge in comparison to children in the no-map condition. Spatial skills as measured by paper-and-pencil tests were hypothesized to be positively related to performance on the mapping task. As hypothesized, results showed that accuracy in placing the flags or stickers differed between children in the comprehension and production groups. This effect was mediated by strategy use such that those in the comprehension condition spent a greater proportion of time aligning, looking at, and touching the map and this greater use of strategies was associated with better performance on placing the flags. The hypothesis that map use would lead to better survey knowledge was not supported by the data and potential reasons for this finding are discussed. Results provided support for the hypothesis that performance on laboratory paper-and-pencil spatial tasks would predict performance on the mapping tasks. This study shows that comprehension and production mapping tasks do not elicit equivalent strategies or performance, and thus implies that caution is needed when selecting methods for mapping research. The finding that performing a search task in an environment with a map does not necessarily lead to better survey knowledge than exploring it without a map raises several questions about how map use might be related to the acquisition of survey knowledge more generally. More broadly, this study has implications for the design of mobile mapping devices and the education of map skills.