Spatial Distribution: Definition, Patterns & Example

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  • 0:04 Spatial Distribution
  • 0:57 Patterns of Spatial…
  • 3:12 Uses of Spatial Distribution
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Human behaviors are hard to quantify, but there are ways to do it. In this lesson, we're going to check out spatial distribution and see how these studies can help us understand human lives.

Spatial Distribution

Where are you right now? You are somewhere. The person next to you, they are somewhere as well. So is the person next to them. While this may seem like somewhat of an obvious observation, it's an important one. Human lives occur within physical space, and that means that we can study the relationship between events in our lives and the spaces in which they occur. Where do people live? How far does the average person commute to work? Which neighborhoods have younger families, which are wealthiest, and which have the highest annual rates of chicken pox? Our lives can be studied in terms of geography, and for that we turn to spatial distribution, or the study of things in terms of their physical locations. Basically, we're asking where things occur and how they relate to each other. It's a useful field of analysis. After all, everything happens somewhere.

Patterns of Spatial Distribution

A spatial distribution study works by selecting a variable and plotting incidents of that variable on a map. For example, imagine that you wanted to know which neighborhoods in a town were the most expensive. Cost is your variable, so you assign colors to different values. Houses that cost $100,000- $200,000 are blue, for example. Then, fill in the map by giving each house its appropriate color. When it's done, look at the relationship between the colors. Are all the blue dots clumped together? Are they spread apart? What does this mean?

When studying spatial distribution, there are three basic patterns we expect to find. The first is uniform. A uniform pattern occurs when each data point is spaced within relatively equal distance. Imagine looking at a marching band in a parade. The musicians are spaced equally apart. This is a uniform pattern. Humans do not generally form uniform patterns without planning, so when we see this we can often assume it was a conscious decision. If we saw a uniform distribution of houses represented by blue dots on that housing cost map, we'd know that somebody had planned for the entire city to be consistently filled with houses of this cost.

The next major pattern we find is random. A random distribution indicates that there is no direct correlation between these data points. They did not form in relation to each other. If the houses represented by blue dots were randomly dispersed, we'd know that this community was not planned according to cost. People just built houses of various prices wherever they felt and did not try to form neighborhoods of similar houses.

The third of the basic patterns of spatial distribution is clustered, or clumped. Data points in a clustered distribution are clearly related to each other, but may not be exactly evenly spaced. What this shows us is that people are coming together based on some shared experience. If all of our blue-dotted houses are clustered together in one part of town, we know that people who can afford these houses want to try and stay near to each other. Maybe they don't want to associate with the poorer parts of town, or maybe they all have similar political or occupational backgrounds. We'd have to do more research to know for sure, but we can tell that something is encouraging these people to cluster together.

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