Spatial Cognition

My applied research career started in spatial cognition. The topic of how we understand, learn, mentally represent, remember, and use spatial information in different contexts is a field rich in potential applications. People (and many animals) have developed different strategies to navigate large-scale space. As humans we have developed spatial displays to help us find our way - traditional maps, but also dynamic spatial displays that can be reconfigured for different tasks. Through landscape architecture we are constantly reconfiguring the natural environment to our needs, and through their design of complex buildings architects create new three-dimensional navigation challenges to users of these buildings. In virtual environments the designers are free to design entire worlds, sometimes even without regard to traditional, euclidean geometry.

Two floorplans that look very different in an overview can lead to very similar complexities of wayfinding when the user only experiences the perspective from within.

Two floorplans that look very different in an overview can lead to very similar complexities of wayfinding when the user only experiences the perspective from within.

In a few projects we have looked at how the built environment can enable and impede efficient wayfinding. One study looked at a large public building in my home city of Göttingen, Germany. Based on our basic research findings regarding spatial reference frames we predicted that some of the difficulties that people reported in finding their way around the building were based on the orientation of the main elevator shaft in the center of the building. Through a virtual redesign we were able to show that this was actually the case.

The top-left floorplan shows the actual floorplan of the city hall building. The other three floorplans vary the orientation of the central elevator shaft and the nature of the corners within the building. Our research clearly shows that a misalignment between the elevator shaft and the rest of the building will lead to a substantial increase in navigation times.

Papers / Proceedings

  • Viita, D. & Werner, S. (2006, October).  Alignments Effects on Simple Turn Decisions in Track-up and North-up Maps. In Proceedings of the 50th annual meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 1519-23.  San Francisco, CA.  (*awarded best student presentation by HFES Perception and Performance Technical Group)
  • Werner, S. & Schindler, L.E. (2004).  Misaligned local reference systems in floorplan layout impair wayfinding performance. Environment & Behavior. 36, 461-482.
  • McNamara, T.P., Rump, B., & Werner, S. (2003). Egocentric and geocentric frames of reference in memory of large-scale space. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 10, 589-595.
  • Werner, S. & Long, P. (2003). Cognition meets LeCorbusier: Cognitive principles of architectural design. In C. Freksa, et al. (Eds.), Spatial Cognition III. (pp. 112-126). Berlin: Springer.
  • Werner, S. (2002). Square or Diamond? How Semantics can Determine Spatial Reference Selection in Memory. Paper presentation at the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society.
  • Werner, S. (2002). Cognitive spatial reference systems and their role in human factors design. Künstliche Intelligenz (KI), 15(3), 10-13.
  • Werner, S. and Jaeger, M. (2002). Intrinsic reference systems in map displays. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 46th Annual Meeting – 2002, 1628-1632.
  • Finkelmeyer, A.E. and Werner, S. (2001). The role of gravity in human spatial memory. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 45th Annual Meeting - 2001, 140-143.
  • Werner, S. (2001). Role of environmental reference systems in human spatial memory. Abstracts of the Psychonomic Society, 42nd Annual Meeting, 15-18 November 2001, Orlando, 6, 43.
  • Werner, S. & Schmidt, K. (1999). Environmental reference systems for large-scale spaces. Spatial Cognition and Computation, 1(4), 447-473.