Book Definition:

A mental representation of physical space.


In 1948, psychologist, Tolman, began studying what became to be known as cognitive maps. He did experiments using rats and mazes. The rats were allowed to roam the maze, but weren't rewarded. Later on, the rats could go through the mazes even faster when there was a food reward (because the rats developed cognitive maps allowing them to be familiar with the maze and know their way around.)

In Your Own Words

  • Having a mental map and navigating through the familiar space around you.
  • Learning the physical space around you through combining information together in your head to create a "mental map."
  • The mental map comes from information stored in your preconscious.


  • In the morning when all the lights are off and it's dark, you can find your way to the bathroom and find the light switch easily, because your cognitive map helps you remember the location of the light switch.
  • You tell someone to get a book from a shelf. You know exactly what's on the shelf, what's near the book, and what shelf it's on. You can describe it to that person, and they can get the book for you.
  • When an underclassmen asks how to get to a class, you remember because your cognitive map is able to visualize it and give directions.
  • You can give directions around your neighborhood because you have a cognitive map of all the streets and houses.
  • When you can type without looking at your keyboard because you have a cognitive map of the keys.
  • Knowing where you're at when the lights are off, and recognizing the area.
  • If an exit of your house was blocked off during a fire, you would be able find the next closest way out
  • If your friend from out of state was to come and visit you, then you could accurately describe directions from the air port to your house since you have a cognitive map of the route.


  • A very interesting study was done on rats. Where there were two groups of rats. One group of rats (the experimental group) went through a maze that had a reward at the end. (a piece of cheese) and the other group of rats went through the maze with no reward being at the end of it. This test was run to determine the how the learning curve is affected when a sudden removal or introduction occurs. The maze was a 14-unit T-maze. When the rats were going through the maze and the reward was removed the amount of error increased largely, as well as the time it took the rat to get through the maze. But when the reward was introduced, the number of errors decreased and it took a shorter amount of time for the rat to finish the maze. After a certain period of time, the rats were able to get through the maze with no reward and very few errors. This proves that a simple minded animal such as rat can complete a puzzle like a maze. this study also proves that latent learning might be better than other types of learning.

Tolman, E. C., & Honzik, C. H. (1930). Introduction and removal of reward, and maze performance in rats. University of California Publications in Psychology.

  • Most recently it has been studied that the hippocampus is involved with the mapping systems. It has been stated that there are two different mapping systems that the hippocampus uses. The first mapping system is using directional cues and positions to sketch a map in your mind so you know where to go. An example of this would be when someone is telling you directions to a house and you use the directions to sketch a map in your mind on how to get there and the routes that you must take to make the trip efficient. The sketches are conducted within the hippocampus using the cues that are received. The other mapping system is integrated when the data and sketch tools come together. These component maps work in parallel. The parallel map theory offers explanation to why the hippocampus is involved with cognitive maps.

Jacobs, L. F., & Schenk, F. (2003). Unpacking the cognitive map: the parallel map theory of hippocampal function. Psychological review, 110(2), 285.