Attention on Maps


  • Robert Earl Lloyd



visual attention, map reading, figure-ground, visual search, perceptual grouping


Wilson’s (1998) notion of consilience among disciplines should be a goal for cartographers. Consilience requires important facts and fact-based theories to apply across disciplines. This paper reviews research on visual attention as an example of a topic shared by information science disciplines. Attention is considered as a competition between neural processes that allow information to be selected and emphasized for perceptual processing. Visual attention has been modeled as a spotlight, zoom lens, gradient, and multiple spotlights. It is argued that visual attention can impact multiple map reading processes and that cartographers can use knowledge about the effects of attention on map reading to design more effective maps. Attention can be directed to locations, objects, and features in the visual field and impacts performance on a variety of map reading tasks. Important general questions relating visual attention and map reading are stated and the literature providing answers discussed. The “dark side” of attention is also discussed and linked to the concepts of inhibition of return, visual marking, inattentional blindness, change blindness, and the attentional blink. Specific map-reading processes affected by visual attention are considered that include figure-ground segregation, visual search, and object selection and grouping. Research trends related to cartographic design and map reading are considered for these processes. Future cartographic studies are considered in four categories—vision before attention, vision with attention, vision after attention, and vision without attention. Understanding the role of visual attention in map reading should be a goal of cartographers interested in producing effective maps.




How to Cite

Lloyd, R. E. (2005). Attention on Maps. Cartographic Perspectives, (52), 28–57.



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