Cognitive Mapping, Travel Behavior, and Access to Opportunity

Andrew Mondschein
Evelyn Blumenberg
Brian D. Taylor


Past theoretical and empirical research on cognitive mapping is combined with the authors’ initial research to suggest how cognitive mapping might be employed to understand and predict travel behavior better, with an emphasis on how spatial cognition shapes access to opportunity. It is argued that the path-based cumulative process of spatial learning—during which the cognitive map develops through wayfinding and travel experience—affects accessibility by determining whether and how destinations are encoded into a person’s cognitive map. Variations in cognitive mapping, spatial knowledge, and resultant travel behavior can occur between individuals or among groups in systematic ways. Some of these differences are related to previous travel experience, including experience with travel modes. Such variations in spatial knowledge can result in different levels of functional accessibility despite similar locations, demographics, and other factors thought to influence travel behavior. The initial survey in three Los Angeles, California, neighborhoods suggests that cognitive mapping is influenced by neighborhood and travel mode experience in addition to demographic characteristics. Modally constructed cognitive maps, which likely vary systematically by location and socioeconomic status, may affect perceived opportunities in ways that travel behavior researchers are only beginning to understand. To a carless job seeker, job opportunities not easily reached by transit are effectively out of reach and even transparent. Modally constructed cognitive maps, in other words, are essential to understanding both travel behavior and accessibility in cities.