Research Interests

My major research interests are in the area of human spatial cognition and behavior. Researchers from many disciplines study people's knowledge about space or the environment, including geography, psychology, computer science, urban planning, architecture, and linguistics. In the field of geographic information science, or GIScience, the importance of studying cognitive issues has recently been recognized. The premise is that it is important to look at humans acting in space and reasoning about space (i.e., their cognitive processes), as well as the physical environment or information about space per se. It is in line with the behavioral approaches in geography (cognitive-behavioral geography), which focus on individuals' cognitive processing. From this perspective, I study various issues of spatial cognition and behavior, particularly the interaction between humans, space, and information about space, based on the theories and methods of cognitive and behavioral science.

human-space interaction

(i) Spatial Cognition and Behavior and the Psychology of Space

Space is a fundamental entity or concept for us—we live in space and we are surrounded by space. And then, how do we perceive the surrounding space? What do we know about the space? How is the knowledge represented in our minds? As people act in the environment, they acquire knowledge about it, store the knowledge in their heads, and use it to guide their behavior in adaptive ways. People's behavior is thus based not only on the physical environment, but also on the environment as perceived, conceived, and remembered. I study this fundamental process of spatial knowledge acquisition (cognitive mapping) and the structure of acquired spatial knowledge (referred to by the famous metaphor cognitive maps). I am also interested in the psychology of space (e.g., residents' feelings, beliefs, and emotions). In particular, I examine the issues of environmental aesthetics and residential evaluation, namely how people assess the quality of residential environments, aiming to gain implications for new methods of urban planning in the age of city shrinkage, such as compact cities, land use mix, and performance-based regulations. Keywords for this line of research include spatial abilities, sense of direction, spatial thinking, individual differences, mental representations, learning strategies, instruction and training, wayfinding and navigation, landmark selection, and navigational assistance.

(ii) Spatial Representations and Navigation Assistance

Another research topic that I am interested in is the understanding and use of spatial representations, such as maps, images, diagrams, and various other types of visualizations (sometimes called geovisualizations). Spatial representations are used to show spatial information (and nonspatial information) as an effective presentation format, but at the same time, these representations are often difficult for some people to understand and use. Individuals also differ in learning styles or preferences: some people prefer visual or spatial methods and others prefer verbal methods. Some people find it easier to be guided with a map, while other people want to be guided through verbal descriptions. Furthermore, in verbally describing space, people have different preferences for which frame of reference to use; for example, instructions given in a relative frame of reference ("you will see the hotel to your left") versus instructions in an absolute frame of reference ("you will see the hotel to the west"). I study how to present spatial information effectively, adapting to the user's attributes and the situation and purpose of use, especially in the context of developing and offering effective navigational assistance (e.g., how to design user-friendly navigation tools, how to provide speech guidance for navigation, and how to adjust navigational instructions to good and poor wayfinders).

(iii) Geospatial Thinking and Spatially Enabled Society

Space is a unifying theme across the fields of science and engineering. In particular in geospatial science, students need to master complex spatial tasks spanning a wide range of scales (e.g., using and making maps, visualizing geologic structures from field observations, or applying GIS operations such as buffering and overlaying); however, numbers of students have difficulty with such high-level spatial thinking. To help students master the skill, various instructional materials have recently been developed, using interactive 3-D visualizations or animations. I am interested in examining the effectiveness of using these visualization techniques to foster students' spatial learning and thinking. And more broadly, I study the characteristics of spatial thinking in geographical information science; for example, how the components of geospatial thinking can be classified, how geospatial thinking is related to or different from basic sptial ability, and how experts' and students' geospatial conceptions differ. In addition, from a societal point of view, the importance of spatial information has been recognized in the context of developing geospatial information infrastructures. Notably, proponents of ubiquitous computing aim to create a society in which people have universal access to information whenever and wherever they want it ("anytime, anywhere, anybody"). An important question then is when and where one should provide information, in what format and for what kind of user or task. I thus study the application of advanced information and communication technologies to real space and their effects on the user's spatial cognition and behavior. The development of geospatial information infrastructures and the provision of ubiquitous locational information will enable cities to integrate real and information spaces, eventually creating a map with a scale of 1:1. How would people behave in such a future society? Would our spatial ability, or the trait called sense of direction, change in such a society? From this perspective, I consider wayfinding in the age of satellite navigation, toward the development of a spatially enabled, ubiquitous computing society.