With the evolution of mapping technology, electronic maps are gradually evolving from traditional 2D formats, and increasingly using a 3D format to represent environmental features. However, these two types of spatial maps might produce different visual attention modes, leading to different spatial wayfinding (or searching) decisions. This study designs a search task for a spatial object to demonstrate whether different types of spatial maps indeed produce different visual attention and decision making. We use eye tracking technology to record the content of visual attention for 44 test subjects with normal eyesight when looking at 2D and 3D maps. The two types of maps have the same scope, but their contents differ in terms of composition, material, and visual observation angle. We use a t test statistical model to analyze differences in indices of eye movement, applying spatial autocorrelation to analyze the aggregation of fixation points and the strength of aggregation. The results show that aside from seek time, there are significant differences between 2D and 3D electronic maps in terms of fixation time and saccade amplitude. This study uses a spatial autocorrelation model to analyze the aggregation of the spatial distribution of fixation points. The results show that in the 2D electronic map the spatial clustering of fixation points occurs in a range of around 12° from the center, and is accompanied by a shorter viewing time and larger saccade amplitude. In the 3D electronic map, the spatial clustering of fixation points occurs in a range of around 9° from the center, and is accompanied by a longer viewing time and smaller saccadic amplitude. The two statistical tests shown above demonstrate that 2D and 3D electronic maps produce different viewing behaviors. The 2D electronic map is more likely to produce fast browsing behavior, which uses rapid eye movements to piece together preliminary information about the overall environment. This enables basic information about the environment to be obtained quickly, but at the cost of the level of detail of the information obtained. However, in the 3D electronic map, more focused browsing occurs. Longer fixations enable the user to gather detailed information from points of interest on the map, and thereby obtain more information about the environment (such as material, color, and depth) and determine the interaction between people and the environment. However, this mode requires a longer viewing time and greater use of directed attention, and therefore may not be conducive to use over a longer period of time. After summarizing the above research findings, the study suggests that future electronic maps can consider combining 2D and 3D modes to simultaneously display electronic map content. Such a mixed viewing mode can provide a more effective viewing interface for human–machine interaction in cyberspace.
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