Day 4: Mapping

Psychological significance


Map of Europe, showing south at the top

Research suggests that north-south positions on maps have psychological consequences. In general, north is associated with richer people, more expensive real estate, and higher altitude, while south is associated with poorer people, cheaper prices, and lower altitude (the "north-south bias"). When participants were presented with south-up oriented maps, this north-south bias disappeared.[1]

Researchers posit the observed association between map-position and goodness/badness (north=good; south=bad) is caused by (i) the convention of consistently placing north at the top of maps, and (ii) a much more general association between vertical position and goodness/badness (up=good, down=bad), which has been documented in numerous contexts (e.g., power/status, profits/prices, affect/emotion, and even the divine).[2]

Common English idioms support the notion that many English speakers conflate or associate north-with-up and south-with-down (e.g., "heading up north" or "down south"), a conflation that can only be understood as learned by repeated exposure to a particular map-orientation convention (i.e., north put at the top of maps). Related idioms used in popular song lyrics provide further evidence for the pervasiveness of "north-south bias" among English speakers, in particular with regard to wealth. Examples include, using "Uptown" to mean "high class or rich" (as in Uptown Girl by Billy Joel), or using "Downtown" to convey lower socioeconomic status (as in Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce[3]

McArthur's Universal Corrective Map of the World, 1949
George Baselitz
Ireland, 2017