Mary Hegarty

Mary Hegarty

Distinguished Professor

Research Area

Cognition, Perception, and Cognitive Neuroscience


Mary Hegarty is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was educated at University College Dublin, where she received her BA and MA from and at Carnegie Mellon, where she received her Ph.D. in Psychology. She has been on the faculty of the Department of Psychological & Brain sciences, UCSB since 1988. Her research interests are in spatial cognition, broadly defined, including individual differences, human navigation and diagrammatic reasoning. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science, a former Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow and former Chair of the governing board of the Cognitive Science Society.  She has served as Associate Editor of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied and TopiCS in Cognitive Science and is on the editorial board of Spatial Cognition and Computation and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. She is the director of UCSB’s Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior (RECVEB) and served for six years as Associate Dean of the Graduate Division. Her current research is funded by the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research and Army Research Office.


Mary Hegarty’s research is on spatial thinking in complex activities such as comprehension, reasoning, problem solving and navigation. She studies the role of internal and external spatial visualizations in reasoning about such diverse topics as mechanical systems, weather patterns, and molecular structure and much of her work is concerned with the use of mental simulation/visualization in conjunction with analytic strategies in scientific problem solving. A unique characteristic of her research is that she studies spatial thinking from the perspective of individual differences as well as employing more commonly used experimental methods. In her work on individual differences, she studies large-scale spatial abilities involved in navigation and learning the layout of environments, as well as smaller-scale spatial abilities involved in mental rotation and perspective taking. Her current research projects focus on studying sources of variation in navigation abilities & strategies, and understanding why people with high-spatial abilities are more successful in STEM disciplines.

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Selected Publications

Newcombe, N. S., Hegarty, M., & Uttal, D. (2023). Building a cognitive science of human variation: Individual differences in spatial navigation. Topics in Cognitive Science15(1), 6-14. 

Hegarty, M., He, C., Boone, A. P., Yu, S., Jacobs, E. G., & Chrastil, E. R. (2023). Understanding differences in wayfinding strategies. Topics in Cognitive Science15(1), 102-119.

Hegarty, M. (2018). Ability and sex differences in spatial thinking: What does the mental rotation test really measure?. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review25, 1212-1219. 

Boone, A.P., Gong, X. & Hegarty, M (2018).  Sex differences in navigation strategy and efficiency. Memory & Cognition, 46, 909-922. 

Hegarty, M., Friedman, A., Boone, A. & Barrett, T. J. (2016). Where are you? The effect of uncertainty and its visual representation on location judgments in GPS-like displays. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 22, 381-392.

Tarampi, M. R., Heydari, N. & Hegarty, M. (2016). A tale of two types of perspective taking: Sex differences in spatial ability. Psychological Science, 1507-1516.

Hegarty, M. (2011). The cognitive science of visual-spatial displays; Implications for design. Topics in Cognitive Science3, 446-474.

Wolbers, T., & Hegarty, M. (2010). What determines our navigational abilities? Trends in Cognitive Sciences14, 138-146.

Hegarty, M., Montello, D. R., Richardson, A. E., Ishikawa, T. and Lovelace, K. (2006) Spatial Abilities at Different Scales: Individual Differences in Aptitude-Test Performance and Spatial-Layout Learning. Intelligence34, 151-176.

Hegarty, M. & Waller, D. (2005). Individual differences in spatial abilities. In P. Shah & A. Miyake (Eds.). The Cambridge Handbook of Visuospatial Thinking. Cambridge University Press (pp. 121 – 169).

Hegarty, M., & Waller, D. (2004). A dissociation between mental rotation and perspective-taking spatial abilities. Intelligence32(2), 175-191.

Kozhevnikov, M., & Hegarty, M. (2001). A dissociation between object manipulation spatial ability and spatial orientation ability. Memory & cognition29, 745-756.

Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Rettinger, D. A., Shah, P., & Hegarty, M. (2001). How are visuospatial working memory, executive functioning, and spatial abilities related? A latent-variable analysis. Journal of experimental psychology: General130(4), 621.

Hegarty, M. (2004). Mechanical reasoning as mental simulation. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences8, 280-285.

Hegarty, M. and Just, M.A. (1993). Constructing mental models of machines from text and diagrams. Journal of Memory and Language32, 717-742.

Hegarty, M. (1992). Mental animation: Inferring motion from static diagrams of mechanical systems. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition18(5), 1084-1102.