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Human Geography Mental Map

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Over time, maps have become an important part of society at large. To paraphrase a common expression, maps are not just for geography anymore. Maps are more widely available than ever before. The new technology of geographic information systems (GIS) has expanded the ease and ability by which maps are produced. We find maps in newspapers, television weather forecasts, automobile navigation devices, the internet, and handheld PDAs. Mapping systems are being used to track repair technicians, to share information about environmental issues, to sell houses, to manage 911 services, and for homeland security. Animated maps and other visualizations have become a key tool in studying a range of scientific phenomena. Because of the widespread use of maps today, learning how to read, interpret, and produce them has become a new essential skill.

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Everyone has mental maps that they use to get around, no matter how "good they are with directions". Picture your neighborhood, for example. You probably have a clear map in your mind of where you live that allows you to navigate to the nearest coffee shop, your friend's house, your place of work, and more without the help of technology or physical maps. You use your mental maps to plan nearly all activities and routes to travel. The average person has large mental maps to tell them where towns, states, and countries are positioned and smaller maps to navigate areas like their kitchen. Any time you envision how to get somewhere or what a place looks like, you use a mental map, often without even thinking about it. This kind of mapping is studied by behavioral geographers to help them understand how humans move. Behaviorism is a division of psychology that looks at human and/or animal behavior. This science assumes that all behavior is a response to environmental stimuli and studies these connections. Likewise, behavioral geographers seek to understand how the landscape, in particular, influences and is influenced by behavior. How people build, change, and interact with the real world through mental maps are all topics of research for this growing field of study. It is possible—common, even—for the mental maps of two individuals to be at odds with each other. This is because mental maps aren't just perceptions of your own spaces, they are also your perceptions of places you've never been or seen and areas that are mostly unfamiliar to you. Mental maps based on assumptions or conjecture can significantly impact human interaction. Perceptions of where a country or region begins and ends, for example, can influence country-to-country negotiations. Ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel exemplifies this. These nations cannot reach an agreement about where the border between them should lie because each side sees the boundaries in question differently. Territorial conflicts such as this are difficult to resolve because participants must rely on their mental maps to make decisions and no two mental maps are the same. As mentioned, mental maps can be created for places you've never been to and this is simultaneously made possible and more difficult by media. Social media, news reports, and movies can depict faraway places vividly enough for a person to create their own mental maps of them. Photographs are often used as the basis of mental maps, especially for famous landmarks. This is what makes skylines of popular cities like Manhattan easily recognizable even to people that have never visited. Unfortunately, media representations don't always give accurate representations of places and can lead to the formation of mental maps riddled with errors. Looking at a country on a map with an improper scale, for example, can make a nation seem larger or smaller than it really is. The Mercator map's infamous distortion of Africa confused people with regard to the size of the continent for centuries. Misconceptions about a country as a whole—from sovereignty to population—often follow inaccurate depictions. The media cannot always be trusted to deliver true information about a place. Biased crime statistics and news reports, for example, should not be taken lightly because they have the power to impact a person's choices. Media reports of crime in an area can lead people to avoid a neighborhood whose crime rate is, in reality, average. Humans often subconsciously attach emotion to their mental maps and information consumed, accurate or not, can alter perceptions significantly. Always be a critical consumer of media representations for the most accurate mental maps.

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For example, if a person were to close their eyes and imagine an apple that act would already be a form of imagery given that the perceived apple is not actually there but is viewed utilized stored memories which take the form of an apple. While the origins of how the human brain is able to accomplish the task of imagery is still a mystery, the fact remains that it is an action that is often utilized in order to remember particular key details about an event, object or scene that is necessary for a particular task to be accomplished. For example, mental imagery can be defined as a form of mental rehearsal wherein an individual visualizes an action or an event and then subsequently practices the motions within his/her mind in order to better understand how to perform that type of action within a given situation, all of this in absence of actual physical exertion. One of the first theoretical guides in examining the worth of mental imagery is neuromuscular theory which specifically states that the neuromuscular pattern associated with a particular movement in a sport can actually be “excited” or rather activated through imagery as well thus facilitating the process of trial and error that comes with repeated practice of a specific skill. The basis of this particular theory can be seen in studies such as those by Knäuper (2009) which show that the activation of neurotransmitters associated with a particular action do not necessarily need to rely on performing an action but can actually be accomplished by thinking of the action itself (Knäuper, 2009). One of the supposed applications of mental imagery can be seen in the various claims over the past few years which consist of supposed improvements in performance, energy, technique, motivation and the overall enjoyment that an athlete can derive from the sport that they are in as a direct result of utilizing mental imagery in their training regimen (Eddy. 2003). Advocates of the technique claim that given enough time and practice an athlete will be able to determine what mistakes he/she has made in previous games and as a result can practice within his/her own mind in order to determine what to do right next time (Sargent, 2002). Cognitive mapping on the other hand is an entirely different type of skill that is a form of mental processing which enables individuals to observe, acquire, store then subsequently recall specific types of information collected through observation. From a certain perspective, it can be considered that cognitive mapping is a method of associating a particular cognitive device with a set of information that one wishes to remember. For example, a specific object such as a tree, home, or lake can be utilized as a means of association regarding a particular type of information. This can come in the form of a type of home and rural background being associated with either one’s parents or an individual’s first love.

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Altogether, moreover, mirror neurons are believed to function with other structures of the brain, which would be akin to the dual-coding theory, which posits that both the imagery and verbal systems are responsible for the enhancement of long-term memory through mental imagery and cognitive mapping. In addition, the discovery of the mirror system implies that cognition results from one’s bodily interactions with the world where “cognition depends on the kinds of experiences that come from having a body with particular perceptual and motor capacities that are inseparably linked and that together form the matrix within which memory, emotion, language, and all other aspects of life are meshed”

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Eddy, K. D. (2003). Mental Imagery in Athletes With Visual Impairments. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 20(4), 347.

Gobet, F. (2000). Retrieval structures and schemata: A brief reply to Ericsson and Kintsch. British Journal Of Psychology, 91(4), 591.

Knäuper, B. H. (2009). Using Mental Imagery to Enhance the Effectiveness of Implementation Intentions. Current Psychology, 28(3), 181.

Poeppel, D. (2012). The maps problem and the mapping problem: Two challenges for a cognitive neuroscience of speech and language. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 29(1/2), 34-55

RepovŠ, G. G., & Baddeley, A. A. (2006). The multi-component model of working memory: Explorations in experimental cognitive psychology. Neuroscience, 139(1), 5-21.

Sargent, G. (2002). The power of Mental Imagery. Sports Coach, 25(2), 18.

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