The influence of GPS-based navigation systems on perception and image formation: A case study in urban environments

Erçevik Sönmez B., Erinsel Önder D.

Cities, vol.86, pp.102-112, 2019 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 86
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.cities.2018.12.018
  • Journal Name: Cities
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.102-112
  • Keywords: Wayfinding, Urban environment, GPS-based navigation systems, Perception image formation
  • Istanbul Medipol University Affiliated: Yes


Images are mentally stored information about the perceived environment and based on direct interaction of human beings with the environment, previous knowledge about that environment, the differences in human ability to navigate, and the task at hand. The perceived environmental information is assessed in the mind, stored as mental images and used to direct the following actions. GPS-based navigation systems, on the contrary, offer precise descriptions of a particular environment and explanations for reaching a specific target. These systems have become an integral part of daily routine through mobile phone applications. However, the use of these systems limits the visual and tactile relationship of individuals with the environment and diminishes the holistic experience and profoundness of a live mental image. Therefore, the effects of GPS-based navigation systems on mental image formation process need to be investigated in the research of spatial perception. The aim of this study is to discuss the effects of wayfinding methods used on perception and image formation in urban environments. In the field study, two different urban patterns -one organic and the other conceived- were chosen. One group of participants proceeded to a specific target in both urban patterns by relying only on GPS-based navigation devices, while the other group found their way by asking dwellers for the directions. After completing their routes, all participants were asked to draw cognitive maps of the wayfinding tasks, and then a structured survey was conducted. Analysis of the resulting data was conducted through the comparison of the experiences completed by the use of GPS-based navigation systems and by route enquiries. According to the results of the study, in an unfamiliar urban environment, the use of GPS-based navigation systems during wayfinding did not prevent the storage of perceived environmental information or clues as mental images and this mentally stored information was used to direct the future actions in that environment. It was revealed that the dominant mental images that emerged during the wayfinding were landmarks.