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Spatial and contextual factors in human performance on the travelling salesperson problem.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date1999
Number of pages11
Original languageEnglish


The travelling salesperson problem (TSP) provides a realistic and practical example of a visuo-spatial problem-solving task. In previous research, we have found that the quality of solutions produced by human participants for small TSPs compares well with solutions from a range of computer algorithms. We have proposed that the ability of participants to find solutions reflects the natural properties of human perception, solutions being found through global perceptual processing of the problem array to extract a best figure from the TSP points. In this paper, we extend the study of human performance on the task in order to understand further how human abilities are utilised in solving real-world TSPs. The results of experiment 1 show that high levels of solution quality are maintained in solving larger TSPs than had been investigated previously with human participants, and that the presence of an implied real-world context in the problems has no effect upon performance. Experiment 2 demonstrated that the presence of regularity in the point layout of a TSP can facilitate performance. This was confirmed in experiment 3, where effects of the internality of point clusters were also found. All three experiments were consistent with a global, perceptually based approach to the problem by participants. We suggest that the role of perceptual processing in spatial problem-solving is an important area for further research in both theoretical and applied domains.