The Nature and Scale of Cognitive Communities of Interest
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The Nature and Scale of Cognitive Communities of Interest


When drawing boundaries of electoral districts, officials often try to respect communities of interest (COIs) by keeping them intact. COIs can be defined socioeconomically, such as an area where a particular ethnic group concentrates, or cognitively, such as a neighborhood or region that people commonly agree upon. My research focuses on the nature and scale of the latter type, called cognitive COIs. I investigate whether people conceive of different scales of cognitive COIs when they are exposed to different map extents of their local area. If they are indeed different, that would point to the existence of different scales of cognitive COIs. I seek to answer this question through two studies. The first splits subjects into three groups and exposes each group to a different map extent; they then draw on the map where they think their COI is located. I find that the size of the COI that they draw depends greatly on map extent. The second study exposes subjects to two different map extents, but all of them receive the same two; they then rank places on the map according to how confident they are that they are in their COI. I likewise find that the size of the COI that they define by their rankings depends on the map extent. These findings indicate that the map induces people to externalize their COI at different scales, confirming that multiple scales of cognitive COIs exist and officials must be aware of that fact when they are redistricting at different levels of government.

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