Where's downtown? Behavioral methods for determining referents of vague spatial queries

Daniel R. Montello, Michael F. Goodchild, Jonathon Gottsegen, Peter Fohl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


Humans think and talk about regions and spatial relations imprecisely, in terms of vague concepts that are fuzzy or probabilistic (e.g., downtown, near). The functionality of geographic information systems will be increased if they can interpret vague queries. We discuss traditional and newer approaches to defining and modeling spatial queries. Most of the research on vague concepts in information systems has focussed on mathematical and computational implementation. To complement this, we discuss behavioral-science methods for determining the referents of vague spatial terms, particularly vague regions. We present a study of the empirical determination of downtown Santa Barbara. We conclude with a discussion of prospects and problems for integrating vague concepts into geographic information systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-204
Number of pages20
JournalSpatial Cognition and Computation
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive Regions
  • Geographic Information
  • Spatial Queries
  • Vagueness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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