Dr. Tad Brunyé is a cognitive scientist at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Natick, Massachusetts. He is the recipient of the 2010 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for his research examining the information Soldiers and civilians use when planning routes and navigating through environments.
Most people assume that if they look at a map they are able to make an easy and deliberate decision regarding which routes to take. Most husbands (including myself) spend a decent amount of their lives attempting to convince their wives of exactly that.
“Trust me, I know the way.”
“Trust me, this is the best way to get there.”
These types of statements are pretty well-founded. People are generally very confident in their route plans (even while shopping), and usually they have selected the route for pretty good reasons. Maybe it looked like the shortest route, most direct route, fastest route, or the route with the fewest number of turns. Or perhaps it looked like the route with the most right-turns, the one avoiding back-roads, or the one likely to have the least amount of traffic. These are all very rational factors to consider. They are based on quantifiable measures such as route length, traffic density and patterns, and number and direction of turns. There is nothing wrong with this strategy.
But what is actually happening under the hood, so to speak? Do these factors alone account for all route plans? What factors might people consider without their knowledge?
In the Lord of the Rings, Twin Towers, the bombastic Treebeard states “I always like going south. Somehow it feels like going downhill.”