When and Why Are Visual Landmarks Used in Giving Directions?

  • Pierre-Emmanuel Michon
  • Michel Denis
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 2205)


Route directions describe the sequence of actions a moving person needs to take to reach a goal in an environment. When generating directions, speakers not only specify what to do. They also refer to landmarks located along the route. We report two studies intended to identify the cognitive functions of landmarks. In the first study, participants learned a route in an urban environment. They then generated route directions to help pedestrians unfamiliar with this environment to find their way. We found that landmarks were reported more frequently at specific points on the route, especially at reorientation points. The second study showed that pedestrians perceived landmarks as a useful part of route directions. We conclude that reference to landmarks is intended to help movers to construct a mental representation of an unfamiliar environment in advance and to prepare them cognitively to get through difficult or uncertain parts of that environment.


Landmarks spatial cognition route directions urban environment navigation 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Allen, G. A. (2000). Principles and practices for communicating route knowledge. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 14, 333–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Chalmé, S., Denis, M., Briffault, X., Gaunet, F., & Nathan, F. (2000). Aides verbales à la navigation automobile: L’impact des instructions directionnelles sur le comportement d’un pilote à l’approche de carrefours. Le Travail Humain, 63, 353–376.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Chown, E., Kaplan, S., & Kortenkamp, D. (1995). Prototypes, location and associative networks (PLAN): Towards a unified theory of cognitive mapping. Cognitive Science, 19, 1–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Denis, M. (1997). The description of routes: A cognitive approach to the production of spatial discourse. Current Psychology of Cognition, 16, 409–458.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Denis, M., Daniel, M.-P., Fontaine, S., & Pazzaglia, F. (2001). Language, spatial cognition, and navigation. In M. Denis et al. (Eds.), Imagery, language, and visuo-spatial thinking (pp. 137–160). Hove, England: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Denis, M., Pazzaglia, F., Cornoldi, C., & Bertolo, L. (1999). Spatial discourse and navigation: An analysis of route directions in the city of Venice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 13, 145–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Dixon, P. (1987). The structure of mental plans for following directions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 13, 18–26.CrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Fontaine, S., & Denis, M. (1999). The production of route instructions in underground and urban environments. In C. Freksa & D. M. Mark (Eds.), Spatial information theory: Cognitive and computational foundations of geographic information science (pp. 83–94). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Galea, L. A. M., & Kimura, D. (1993). Sex differences in route-learning. Personality and Individual Differences, 14, 53–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Glenberg, A. M., & Robertson, D. A. (1999). Indexical understanding of instructions. Discourse Processes, 28, 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Golding, J. M., Graesser, A. C., & Hauselt, J. (1996). The processing of answering direction-giving questions when someone is lost on a university campus: The role of pragmatics. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 10, 23–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Jackson, P. G. (1998). In search of better route instructions. Ergonomics, 41, 1000–1013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Lovelace, K. L., Hegarty, M., & Montello, D. R. (1999). Elements of good route directions in familiar and unfamiliar environments. In C. Freksa & D. M. Mark (Eds.), Spatial information theory: Cognitive and computational foundations of geographic information science (pp. 65–82). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Schneider, L. F., & Taylor, H. A. (1999). How do you get there from here? Mental representations of route descriptions. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 13, 415–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Schweizer, K., Hermann, T., Janzen, G., & Katz, S. (1998). The route direction effect and its constraints. In C. Freksa, C. Habel, & K. F. Wender (Eds.), Spatial cognition I: An interdisciplinary approach to representing and processing spatial knowledge (pp. 19–38). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Taylor, H. A., & Tversky, B. (1992). Spatial mental models derived from survey and route descriptions. Journal of Memory and Language, 31, 261–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Taylor, H. A., & Tversky, B. (1996). Perspective in spatial descriptions. Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 371–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Werner, S., Krieg-Brückner, B., Mallot, H. A., Schweizer, K., & Freksa, C. (1997). Spatial cognition: The role of landmark, route, and survey knowledge in human and robot navigation. In M. Jarke, K. Pasedach, & K. Pohl (Eds.), Informatik’ 97 (pp. 41–50). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pierre-Emmanuel Michon
    • 1
  • Michel Denis
    • 1
  1. 1.Groupe Cognition HumaineLIMSI-CNRSOrsayFrance

Personalised recommendations