Mary Hegarty

Mary Hegarty

Distinguished Professor

Research Area

Cognition, Perception, and Cognitive Neuroscience


Mary Hegarty received her BA and MA from University College Dublin, Ireland. She worked as a research assistant for three years at the Irish national educational research centre before attending Carnegie Mellon, where she received her Ph.D. in Psychology in 1988. She has been on the faculty of the Department of Psychological & Brain sciences, UCSB since then. The author of over 100 articles and chapters on spatial cognition, diagrammatic reasoning, and individual differences, she is a fellow of the American Psychological Society, a former Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow, and the former chair of the governing board of the Cognitive Science Society. She is Associate Editor of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied and TopiCS in Cognitive Science and is on the editorial board of Learning and Individual Differences and Spatial Cognition and Computation. Her current research is funded by the National Science Foundation.


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.

Selected Publications

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.

Keehner, M. Hegarty, M., Cohen, C. A., Khooshabeh, P. & Montello, D. R. (2008). Spatial reasoning with external visualizations: What matters is what you see, not whether you interact. Cognitive Science32, 1099-1132.

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

Miyake, A., Rettinger, D. A., Friedman, N. P., Shah, P & Hegarty, M. (2001). Visuospatial working memory, executive functioning and spatial abilities. How are they related? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General130, 621-640.

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.