We're Only Human: Border Bias; March / April 2011; Scientific American Mind; by Wray Herbert; 2 Page(s)
I once lived within a short walking distance of a state line, and I had a friend who lived right on the avenue that was the dividing line. That meant she could be cutting her lawn while watching her neighbor cut his lawn in a different state. Living on a border loses its novelty after a while, but visitors always find it intriguing. They seem to expect the Berlin Wall or some other concrete demarcation of an abstract political division.
This curiosity arises because of cognitive mapmaking, which is different from regular mapmaking. Cartographers measure and plot distances over land and water, but when we make a mental map, we rely on categories to help us keep things straight. States are one of these categories. For example, we think of Spokane and Olympia as close because they are both in the state of Washington, even though Olympia is actually much closer to Portland, Ore. The mapmaker in our neurons favors the category over actual proximity.