Memory & Cognition

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 306–318 | Cite as

The initial segment strategy: A heuristic for route selection

  • Jeremy N. Bailenson
  • Michael S. Shum
  • David H. Uttal


People often choose one route when traveling from point A to point B and a different route when traveling from point B to point A. To explain these route asymmetries, we propose that people rely on a heuristic (the initial segment strategy, or ISS) during route planning. This heuristic involves basing decisions disproportionately on the straightness of the initial segments of the routes. Asymmetries arise because the characteristics that favor selection of a particular route in one direction will usually differ from those that favor selection when traveling in the opposite direction. Results from five experiments supported these claims. In the first three experiments, we found that subjects’ decisions were asymmetric and involved a preference for initially straight routes. In Experiment 4, we confirmed that the ISS is a heuristic by demonstrating that people rely on it more when under time pressure. However, people can choose the optimal route when instructed to do so. In Experiment 5, we generalized the findings by having subjects select routes on maps of college campuses. Taken together, the results indicate that the ISS can account for asymmetries in route choices on both real and artificial maps.


  1. Bailenson, J. N., Shum, M. S., & Uttal, D. H. (1998). Road climbing: Principles governing asymmetric route choices on maps. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 18, 251–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bovy, P. H. L., & Stern, E. (1990).Route choice: Wayfinding in transport networks. Dordrecht, Kluwer.Google Scholar
  3. Christenfeld, N. (1995). Choices from identical options. Psychological Science, 6, 50–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Denis, M., & Cocude, M. (1989). Scanning visual images generated from verbal descriptions. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 1, 293–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Downs, R. M., Liben, L. S., & Daggs, D. G. (1988). On education and geographers: The role of cognitive development theory in geographic education. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 78, 680–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dunning, D., & Parpal, M. (1989). Mental addition versus subtraction in counterfactual reasoning: On assessing the impact of personal actions and life events. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 57, 5–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hogarth, R. M. (1981). Beyond discrete biases: Functional and dysfunctional aspects of judgmental heuristics. Psychological Bulletin, 90, 197–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Holyoak, K. J., & Mah, W. A. (1982). Cognitive reference points in judgments of symbolic magnitude. Cognitive Psychology, 14, 328–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kleinmuntz, D. N., & Kleinmuntz, B. (1981). Decision strategies in simulated environments. Behavioral Science, 26, 294–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. McNamara, T. P. (1991). Memory’s view of space. In G. H. Bower (Ed.),The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 27, pp. 147–186). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  11. McNamara, T. P., & Diwadkar, V. A. (1997). Symmetry and asymmetry of human spatial memory. Cognitive Psychology, 34, 160–190.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Montello, D. R. (1991). The measurement of cognitive distance: Methods and construct validity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 101–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Newcombe, N., Huttenlocher, J., Sandberg, E., & Lie, E. (1996, October).What do asymmetries in judgment indicate about representation? The case of spatial estimation. Presented at the 37th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Chicago.Google Scholar
  14. Payne, J. W., Bettman, J. R., & Johnson, E. J. (1988). Adaptive strategy selection in decision making. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 14, 534–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Robin, F., & Denis, M. (1991). Description of perceived or imagined spatial networks. In R. H. Logie & M. Denis (Eds.),Mental images in human cognition (pp. 141–152). Amsterdam: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sadalla, E. K., Burroughs, W. J., & Staplin, L. J. (1980). Reference points in spatial cognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6, 516–528.Google Scholar
  17. Seneviante, P. N., & Morrall, J. F. (1986). Analysis of factors affecting the choice of route of pedestrians. Transportation Planning & Technology, 10, 147–159.Google Scholar
  18. Shum, M. S., Bailenson, J. N., Hwang, S., Piland, L., & Uttal, D. (1998). Road climbing: A route choice heuristic. InProceedings of the 20th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 667–673). Mahwah, MJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  19. Simon, H. A. (1981).The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Stern, E., & Leiser, D. (1988). Levels of spatial knowledge and urban travel modeling. Geographical Analysis, 20, 140–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Tversky, A. (1977). Features of similarity. Psychological Review, 84, 327–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy N. Bailenson
    • 1
  • Michael S. Shum
    • 1
  • David H. Uttal
    • 1
  1. 1.Northwestern UniversityEvanston
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta Barbara

Personalised recommendations