Through signs and symbols, maps represent geographic space in a generalized and abstracted way. Cartographic research is, therefore, concerned with establishing a mutually shared set of signs and semiotic rules to communicate geospatial information successfully. While cartographers generally strive for cognitively congruent maps, empirical research has only started to explore the different facets and levels of correspondences between external cartographic representations and processes of human cognition. This research, therefore, draws attention to the principle of contextual congruence to study the correspondences between shape symbols and different geospatial content. An empirical study was carried out to explore the (in)congruence of cartographic point symbols with respect to positive, neutral, and negative geospatial topics in monothematic maps. In an online survey, 72 thematic maps (i.e., 12 map topics × 6 symbols) were evaluated by 116 participants in a between-groups design. The point symbols comprised five symmetric shapes (i.e., Circle, Triangle, Square, Rhomb, Star) and one Asymmetric Star shape. The study revealed detailed symbol-content congruences for each map topic as well as on an aggregated level, i.e., by positive, neutral, and negative topic clusters. Asymmetric Star symbols generally showed to be highly incongruent with positive and neutral topics, while highly congruent with negative map topics. Symmetric shapes, on the other hand, emerged to be of high congruence with positive and neutral map topics, whilst incongruent with negative topics. As the meaning of point symbols showed to be susceptible to context, the findings lead to the conclusion that cognitively congruent maps require profound context-specific considerations when designing and employing map symbols.
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