Accuracy of residents' perceived home locations on an environmental risk map

When people view a map depicting an environmental risk, they tend to look for risk information near the perceived location of their residence. For some types of maps, the accuracy of perceived map location will influence perceived proximity to mapped hazards, which in turn, can influence proximity-based beliefs and decisions. As such, it is important to measure and understand the accuracy of perceived map location. The primary aims of this field study were to measure and describe perceived map location and examine how map landmarks and personal characteristics were related to accuracy. Maps depicted a drinking water hazard. Participants (n = 57) drew an X on a paper map to indicate perceived home location. The X's location was georeferenced using geographic information systems (GIS) software. Accuracy was the geographic distance between perceived and actual map location and varied widely across participants (0.04 - 3.99 miles on a 62 mile map; 0.06 - 6.41 km on a 9.662 km map). A lake landmark and participants' perceived numeracy were related to the accuracy of perceived map location. Concepts from spatial and map cognition offer plausible explanations for study results.