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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Neighborhoods, Directions and Distances: Segmentation Effects in a Real-World City


People often segment spaces into hierarchically structured subspaces. Judgments about inter-point distance and direction are more accurate within than between segments. However, especially in large-scale complex spaces, segmentation may be necessary for flexible navigation. In this study, we looked at spatial segmentation in a real-life city. We asked citizens of Istanbul, a transcontinental city spread over Europe and Asia with natural waterways that divide it into multiple neighborhoods, to indicate how they segment their city and to perform spatial judgments between well-known landmarks. We examined segmentation effects for divisions they endorsed, and for those others use but they do not report using. Additionally, we examined the impact of gender, age, time spent in the city, and frequency of using connecting routes and bridges. We replicated basic segmentation effects for the primary division, used by all, between the European and Asian sides. For the European side, which has a geographic boundary (The Golden Horn), segmentation impaired the accuracy of spatial representation of participants. For the Asian side, where there is a potential division that is more notional, we found different effects. Individual’s age, sex, time spent in the city, and frequency of using connecting routes also influenced spatial judgments. These results suggest that (i) spatial segmentation effects exist in the real-world, (ii) segmentation in a city-scale environment is differently affected by physical and conceptual boundaries, and (iii) sex, age, and navigation experiences are associated with the cognitive representation of a city.

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