Progress in Geography, Volume. 39, Issue 7, 1182(2020)

Research progress and implication of the “neural turn” in human geography

Min WANG1, Mingliang LIN2, and Hong ZHU3、*
Author Affiliations
  • 1School of Geography, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
  • 2School of Urban and Regional Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200241, China
  • 3Centre for Human Geography and Urban Development, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China
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    Neuroscience is the science of the 21st century. The theoretical research results of neuroscience are affecting daily life, environment, space, context, and place profoundly. It provides a new way of thinking and method to explain human's mind and behavior. In the context of post-modernism, the understanding of self-consciousness in human geography has become fragmented. Non-presentation theory and embodied cognitive geography claim that in most of the time, people are "unconscious". Subject self-consciousness is irrational, which takes place in the "outflows" daily life world. It emphasizes the showing, performance, and practice of the body. The meaning of the real world should be obtained through embodied cognition and behavior. They found evidence from neuroscience that led to a "neural turn" in geography. The "neural turn" devotes to linking human's mind and behavioral traits to biological evidence. It is different from inter-disciplinary debates that are breaking down the disciplinary boundaries between social culture and natural sciences. The laboratory methods cannot reflect the real world, and the social science methods are difficult to get rid of subjective factors. The "neural turn" can provide a research perspective of combining the-first-person and the-third-person for human geography. This article reviewed the recent studies on the "neural turn" in Western human geography. "Neural turn" research mainly concentrated in three aspects: space perception, embodied affect, and behavior practice. It has involved economic, political, social, cultural, public policy, tourism, and education topics. The application of neuroscience in human geography can also be applied to multiple scales of space such as country, city, community, and body. Neuroscience perspective as a new path is used in urban planning, environmental design, tourism development, and public policy, among others. At the same time, the technical tools of neuroscience have become new data collection methods in human geography. Neural technology can capture imperceptible physiological changes in the human body in order to detect neural activity caused by mind and behavior in a particular environment and context. The collection of physiological data can surmount the representation of text and symbols to discover non-representational results. Brain images and eye tracking technologies have been applied in geography, presenting predictable visions for the future. At present, Chinese human geography pays little attention to neuroscience. This article is hoped to provide some reference and enlightenment for the study of Chinese human geography. The dialogue between neuroscience and human geography is still in its infancy and needs more empirical research. In this process, human geography can carry out more cooperative research to produce more knowledge spillover. At the same time, these studies need to explore the topic of Chinese localization in order to better realize the people-oriented approach in the research and application of Chinese human geography.


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    Min WANG, Mingliang LIN, Hong ZHU. Research progress and implication of the “neural turn” in human geography[J]. Progress in Geography, 2020, 39(7): 1182

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    Paper Information


    Received: May. 23, 2019

    Accepted: --

    Published Online: Jan. 28, 2021

    The Author Email: ZHU Hong (