This half-day workshop on Monday, September 4 at COSIT 2017 is meant to attract participants with backgrounds in psychology, linguistics, anthropology, computer science, geography, engineering, architecture, geology, chemistry and more. The organizers will set the stage from cognitive and computational perspectives, followed by participant lightning talks (5-7 minutes each) and extensive discussions of topics emerging from the position papers.

Workshop proceedings will be open access and published at CEUR Workshop Proceedings and in the eScholarship archives of the University of California, Santa Barbara. If the position papers contain enough novel material and the discussions suggest further development after the workshop, a call for full papers to a special journal issue will follow.


At what scale are we thinking when we read a map, get directions from a navigation system, or do spatial analysis using a GIS? This workshop will investigate whether the concepts underlying external spatial representations (such as fields or objects in a GIS) and computations (such as buffer or overlay) can be assigned a cognitive scale and what that would be. By “cognitive scale”, we refer to the size or extent of spatial phenomena as conceptualized by and in relation to human beings and their perceptual-motor mechanisms (following Montello’s 1998 taxonomy and the 1997 discussion by Freundschuh and Egenhofer).

Maps represent environments at a more or less fixed scale and require operations at the figural (more specifically, pictorial) cognitive scale. GIS and related technologies, while clearly not scale-free, offer much more flexible ways of dealing with scale. Are errors like the Economist’s erroneous map of North Korean missile ranges evidence for inadequate ways of dealing with cognitive scale, not just for ignoring the effects of map projections?

Discussion Questions

This workshop will take a fresh look at the various notions and components of scale of digital spatial information and questions they raise.

  • How can we organize spatial information in a way that relates to cognitive scale taxonomies? Can and should we organize spatial information in scale-agnostic ways? Are certain kinds of spatial information limited to certain scales or scale ranges?
  • What about scale in the sense of granularity (referring to the smallest units of study)? How is granularity tied to perceptual and cognitive processes?
  • Has the evolution of scale on paper maps caused particular problems of human understanding? Do operations such as buffering suggest pictorial rather than environmental space thinking?
  • What are the roles and consequences of intentional scale distortions, for example in cartograms or fisheye maps?
  • What are the cognitive implications of the nearly continuous scale changing (zooming) found in modern GIS?
  • What is the role of cognitive scale in virtual reality and other immersive environments?
  • How do findings about geographic information map onto non-geographic spaces (of atoms or galaxies, for example)?
  • How are measurement scales (nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio,…) related to spatial scales?
  • How do individual differences in spatial abilities impact comprehension of spatial information at different scales?


  1. Welcome and self-introductions (15’)
  2. Short introductory talks (10’ each plus Q&A , total 30’)
    1. Dan: the notion of cognitive scales
    2. Werner: kinds of spatial information
  3. Participant lightning talks (5’ each plus Q&A, total 30’)
  4. First breakout session: are the core concepts scale-neutral? (45’ plus reporting with Q&A, total 60’)
  5. Second breakout session: topic t.b.d. (45’ plus reporting with Q&A, total 60’)
  6. Planning an archival outcome and closing discussion (30’)


Werner KuhnCenter for Spatial Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Dan MontelloProfessor of Geography, Affiliated Professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara
Scott FreundschuhDepartment of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico
Crystal BaeGraduate Student, Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara
Thomas HerveyGraduate Student, Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara
Sara LafiaGraduate Student, Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara
Daniel PhillipsGraduate Student, Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara