NSCPHD1179 Human mobility, cognition and GISc

Årgang 2015/2016
Engelsk titel

Human mobility, cognition and GISc



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Subject area

Human's spatial behaviour is based on our spatial knowledge - often conceptualized as mental or cognitive maps - and the way we immediately perceive an environment. During spatial behaviour - for instance during navigation - perceived information can be applied both to directly inform locomotion and to provide input to enhanced spatial knowledge - i.e. the construction of mental maps

Research and innovation of methods and technologies for researching and aiding spatial behaviour is often based on GPS (as a prominent example) for collection of present location and GIS (as standard software applications or as developed specifically within a field of application) for analysis of behaviour, modelling/suggestion of optimal routes, and other applications.

Often methods applied are based almost entirely on the physical or topological configuration of space (e.g., shortest path analysis, visibility analysis, simulation of individuals' behaviour based on social physics). Perceptual and cognitive aspects, such as how well people understand particular routes, are typically assumed or ignored. Only in rare cases are studies conducted to reveal and understand such social, psychological, and neurological processes explicitly.

lt is the aim of the proposed PhD course to bring together expertise on spatial cognition/behaviour with scientists in geoinformatics focussing on human movement and related spatial behavioural phenomena (e.g., navigation). This way it is expected that both students from cognitive psychology that wants to qualify in spatial representation and modelling and students in geographery, planning, engineering and computer science who are working with behaviour will gain from the course.

 Scientific content

The field of geomatics is a well-established academic domain. It involves computer-based capturing, automation, analysis, and simulation - as well as presentation and communication - of geographic information. These methods could gain from a more firm scientific basis in the psychological aspects relating, for example, to human cognitive processes and the analysis of visibility (e.g., viewshed analysis) and network analysis (e.g., shortest path and accessibility). Similarly, the mode of communicating geographic information is lacking a cognitive background. A prominent example is the shallow mode of communication between GPS-based navigation aids in vehicles and the driver (based entirely on bearings and distances - literally excluding processes related to the drivers' mental map and waypoints).

Much work has been performed on human movement and wayfinding in geomatics globally over recent years. From 2009 to 2013 a COST action (IC0903) (see Weibel, 2015) - Knowledge Discovery from Moving Objects (MOVE) - was led by Robert Weibel of the University of Zuerich. Professor Weibel and his associates -including Patrik Laube - are instrumental in pushing analysis of moving objects forward on the scientific agenda. As a spin-off of the COST action, yearly one-day workshops are conducted. In 2015, this workshop will be hosted at the University of Copenhagen (IGN), directly connected to the PhD course. 

Behavioural geography has developed mainly since the end of the 1960’s, but ranges long back to the works of Torsten Hagerstrand in the 1950’s and even earlier. Especially US based geographers - spearheaded by the late Regional Golledge (University of California, Santa Barbara) and later by Dan Montello (also at UCSB) (see for instance Montello 2005) have plaid a major role insisting on the need for psychological/cognitive knowledge involved in the study of human behaviour and geographic information. Several groups of psychological researchers have conducted studies in vivo of individual spatial behavioural processes. A prominent group is led by Tobias Meilinger at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen (Germany) (see e.g. Meilinger et al. 2013).

Robert Weibel, Dan Montello, Patrik Laube, and Tobias Meilinger appear as teachers at the proposed PhD course. The main asset of the prosed PhD course will be to bring together the two strains of research they represent for the benefit of both.

Over the years researcher have applied tracking, analysis and simulation of human movement to planning and design of buildings, recreational areas and urban spaces. Prominent cases include those produced by Steffan Van Der Spek and associates (see Van De Spek et al. 2009 and 2013).

Selected references

Laube, P. 2014/2015. Keynote talk at ‘Analysis of movement data’. Workshop at GeoScience 2014. Vienna. Austria. ‘The low hanging fruit is gone – Achievements and Challenges of Computational Movement Analysis‘. Updated reprint in The SIGSPATIAL Special Volume 7 Number 1 March 2015 Newsletter of the Association for Computing Machinery. Special Interest Group on Spatial Information. Last accessed May 2015.

Meilinger, T, Frankenstein, J. and Bülthoff, H.H. 2013. Learning to navigate: Experience versus maps. Cognition 129, 24-30.

Montello, D. R. 2005. Navigation. In P. Shah & A. Miyake (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of visuospatial thinking (pp. 257-294). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van der Spek, S.C., Van Langelaar, T., & Kickert, C., Evidence-based design: satellite positioning studies of city centre user groups, Urban design and Planning, ICE publishing, Volume 166, Issue DP4, 2013

Van der Spek, S.C., Van Schaick, J., De Bois, P.G., & De Haan, A.R., ‘Sensing Human Activity: GPS Tracking’, Sensors, Basel, Switzerland, 2009

Weibel, R. 2015. (Action chair). Knowledge Discovery from Moving Objects (COST Action IC0903). Last accessed May 2015.

Program out line

November 9



November 10

Behavioral and Cognitive Geography: History, Concepts, and Problems


Main Contributor: Dan Montello

Department of Geography University of California, Santa Barbara (US)

November 11

Experimenting with psychology of space.  Setting up experiments in vitro, in situ, and in silico.


Main Contributor: Tobias Meilinger

The Max-Planck-Institute for Biological Cybernetics in
Tübingen (DE)

November 12

Computational movement analysis of humans' spatial behaviour.


Main Contributor: Patrik Laube

School of Life Sciences and Facility Management
Zurich University of Applied Sciences (CH)


Additional speaker, Ole B. Jensen: Mobility in urban design

Department of Architecture, Design and Media Technology
University of Aalborg (DK)

November 13

From measurement, analysis and simulation to planning and design of lively and sustainable places.


Main Contributor: Stefan van der Spek

Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment 
Technical University of Delft (NL)


Additional speaker,  Hans Skov-Petersen: Agent based Simulation Models

Dept. Of Geosciences and Natural ressource management
University of Copenhagen (DK)




At registration students are obliged to submit a short (max 3-600 words) description of their work and anticipated achievements from the course.

After the course students have to prepare a manuscript based on selected issues from their work as related to the topics of the course. The manuscript can be in a form aiming at later publishing as a journal article.




Learning outcome

Students working with registration, understanding, analysis, visualization, and simulation of human spatial behaviour are expected to gain an operational and theoretic background to comprehend and include knowledge of the cognitive aspects of spatial knowledge acquisition and application. The specific focus will be the relations between the cognitive background of spatial perception, cognition, and behaviour, and the way modelling and analysis of spatial/temporal data and presentation of results are performed.

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