2009, Leda Mary Giannakopoulou, "Cognitive issues in geographic categorization" Print
Greek version / Ελληνική έκδοση


Title: Cognitive issues in geographic categorization


Author: Leda Mary Giannakopoulou


Advisor: Marinos Kavouras




The present study investigates how geographic entities are perceived and categorized by people. A basic working assumption is that although the surrounding geographic world has a real structure, there are differences in the way this structure is conceptualized by different individuals. These differences depend on various characteristics of an individual such as language, culture and expertise. Our study builds upon previous research launched by Barry Smith and David Mark in 2001 with a view towards developing the Geographic Information Systems towards more user friendly systems, supporting categories of geographic entities compatible to the conceptualizations of various groups of users.


The core of this study is an experiment with human subjects carried out in March and June 2009 with two groups of subjects, one consisting of non experts in the field of geography (so that a comparison with the results of the Smith and Mark’s experiment could be realized) and the other consisting of experts (which would permit a second set of comparisons between experts and non experts). The subjects were asked to give examples in response to eight different supercategories, corresponding to eight different phrasings, most of them combining the adjective “geographic” with an ontological noun (such as concept, object, phenomenon, etc). The analysis of the words and phrases given as examples of the aforementioned geographical categories and the double set of comparisons between experts and non experts on one hand and between the American results and our results on the other hand, reveal interesting elements about the way cultural factors and expertise influence the categorization of geographic entities.


The study consists of four Chapters. In the first Chapter we proceed to a bibliographic review of the basic theories concerning categories and concepts. Among them the theory of basic-level categories of E. Rosch proves to be a useful framework for the formulation of the working assumptions of our research. Furthermore we present certain theories of cognitive psychology concerning the organization of concepts into conceptual structures and their representation in memory. In the second Chapter is developed the methodology of our research with human subjects. First we make a revision of some representative experiments in the field of cognitive psychology and spatial cognition which we considered to be useful for the set up of our experiment. Then we describe the design and the implementation of our own experiment. In the third Chapter the results of the data analysis and processing are presented. Our analysis is based on two main variables: the frequency of the terms referred as examples and their mean ordinal position in the lists produced by the subjects. Respectively two methods of analysis were used namely the Correspondence Analysis and the method of Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) in order to investigate the structure of our data. In the fourth Chapter are presented the conclusions of our research.


Completion year: 2009


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