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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The subjective geometry of regional space : a cross cultural inquiry Francoeur, Jean-Gilles


This thesis is concerned with spatial representation or more precisely, distance cognition. It examines the nature of distance cognition, investigating how people perceive distances at the regional scale. Also, it seeks to understand some of the cognitive processes responsible for people's mental transformations of space. Cognitive distance is studied in terms of how people make sense of and organize their surrounding space. It is believed to be a function of (1) people's active knowledge and impressions of space, and (2) people's ways of organizing that information through personal categories as well as the existing categories and dominant features of the environment. Experiments were conducted in Eastern Ontario. French and English senior students of ten high schools of the region completed an extensive questionnaire. The data was analyzed at the individual and aggregate level with sophisticated multi-variate statistical analyses, smallest-space analysis and cluster analysis. Subjects made the best estimates of distance when they could gage their judgment on a well known distance(s). This ratio estimate was conceptualized in an abstract "straight line" fashion but, when interpreted in the light of the time dimension, the ratio estimate proved to be much more sensitive to space. Units of time have provided more perspective for relative judgment. Such estimates correspond to an intermediate level of measurement, typical of projective space. The representation remains distorted and partly subjective; it proved to be partially coordinated into various sub-spaces. Distance cognition was shown to be the product of the mental reconstruction of the trip or of the experience of movement in space. The amount of space distortion depends on people's experience of space while the direction (sign) of distortion depends much more on people's impressions of that experience. Also, people's ways of simplifying environmental information influenced distance estimates, and in particular, direction estimates. Cultural barriers were shown to exist and the imageable features of the region proved to have a significant effect.

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