Map Reading: Cognitive Load & Route Selection

Research Paper Title

Cognitive Load During Route Selection Increases Reliance on Spatial Heuristics.


Planning routes from maps involves perceiving the symbolic environment, identifying alternative routes, and applying explicit strategies and implicit heuristics to select an option. Two implicit heuristics have received considerable attention, the southern route preference and initial segment strategy.


The current study tested a prediction from decision making theory, that increasing cognitive load during route planning will increase reliance on these heuristics. In two experiments, participants planned routes while under conditions of minimal (0-back) or high (2-back) working memory load.

  • In Experiment 1, the researchers examined how memory load impacts the southern route heuristic.
  • In Experiment 2, the researchers examined how memory load impacts the initial segment heuristic.


Results replicated earlier results demonstrating a southern route preference (Experiment 1) and initial segment strategy (Experiment 2), and further demonstrated that evidence for heuristic reliance is more likely under conditions of concurrent working memory load. Furthermore, the extent to which participants maintained efficient route selection latencies in the 2-back condition predicted the magnitude of this effect.


Together, results demonstrate that working memory load increases the application of heuristics during spatial decision making, particularly when participants attempt to maintain quick decisions while managing concurrent task demands.


Brunyé, T.T., Martis, S.B. & Taylor, H.A. (2017) Cognitive Load During Route Selection Increases Reliance on Spatial Heuristics. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 1-38. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2017.1310268. [Epub ahead of print].


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.