Spatial categories and the estimation of location

Janellen Huttenlocher*, Larry V. Hedges, Bryce Corrigan, L. Elizabeth Crawford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Four experiments are reported in which people organize a space hierarchically when they estimate particular locations in that space. Earlier work showed that people subdivide circles into quadrants bounded at the vertical and horizontal axes, biasing their estimates towards prototypical diagonal locations within those spatial categories (Psychological Review 98 (1991) 352). In this work Huttenlocher, Hedges, and Duncan showed that the use of such spatial categories can increase the accuracy of estimation of inexactly represented locations. The stimulus locations we examined were uniformly distributed across the circle. In the present study we explore whether variation in the distribution of locations affects how the circle is categorized. Other things being equal, categories that capture high density regions in a stimulus space should contribute most to accuracy of estimation. However, precision of boundaries is also important to accuracy; with imprecise boundaries stimuli may be misclassified, leading to large errors in estimation. We found that people use the same spatial categories regardless of the distribution of the locations. We argue that this spatial organization nevertheless can maximize the accuracy of estimates because vertical and horizontal category boundaries are the most exact, minimizing misclassification of stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-97
Number of pages23
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • Boundaries
  • Estimation of location
  • Spatial categories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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