Perceptual Region

All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions

Perceptual Region Perceptual Region

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Table of contents

    - Leonardo da Vinci

    Humans interact with geographic space in physical ways such as being limited by certain landforms or adapting to a certain climate. However, as creatures with the power of imagination, humans also interact with geographic space based on our powers of perception.

    Perceptual Region Definition

    Perceptual regions may be one of those concepts you were aware of, just not aware of the academic name.

    Perceptual Region: areas defined by perception and feelings, rather than based on objective geographic characteristics. It is also called a Vernacular Region.

    Perceptual regions are real. Geographers and residents refer to them. However, the foundation for these regions is not based on physical attributes, shared cultural attributes, or well-defined borders. Instead, the foundation for perceptual regions is perception.

    Formal, Functional, and Perceptual Regions

    Other than perceptual regions, there are also functional and formal regions.

    Formal regions are well-defined and involve a common attribute. For instance, formal regions are well-defined regions that share a religion, language, ethnicity, etc. A good example of a formal region is Quebec, as it is the French-speaking region of Canada.

    Unlike perceptual regions, formal regions are well-defined. There are clear divisions between formal regions. For instance, you will notice that you are entering a new country when you must pass border control centers. Or you may notice that you have entered a new formal region if the language of the road signs changes.

    Functional regions involve a centralized node around which activity is centered. For instance, broadcasting regions represent a functional region. There is a certain functional radius in which television towers broadcast their radio or television channel. This function constitutes a functional region.

    Perceptual Region Examples

    Now we will focus on perceptual regions. There are numerous examples. Let's discuss some common ones that you might have already heard of, but did not realize were perceptual regions.

    The Outback

    The Outback describes wild, rural areas of Australia. It lives in many people's imaginations. However, it is not well defined. Individuals have a perception of the Outback and the landscape it represents, but there is no official political organization or border that welcomes a traveler into the Outback region.

    Perceptual Regions Outback StudySmarterFig. 1 - Australian Outback

    The Bermuda Triangle

    The Bermuda Triangle is a famous example of a perceptual region, often referenced in pop culture. There is mysticism and lore surrounding this region. Allegedly, numerous ships and planes have entered this perceptual region and disappeared, never to be seen again. However, it is not real in a physical geographic sense.

    Perceptual Regions Bermuda Triangle StudySmarterFig. 2 - Bermuda Triangle

    Silicon Valley

    Silicon Valley has become a term for the tech industry. However, there is no formal political entity or boundary that defines the borders of Silicon Valley. It is not a political entity with a formal government. It encompasses an area that has become home to numerous tech companies. For instance, Meta, Twitter, Google, Apple, and more are all headquartered here.

    Perceptual Regions Silicon Valley StudySmarterFig. 3 - Silicon Valley

    Perceptual Region Map

    Let's look at a map.

    The South

    The US South does not have well-defined borders.

    The Civil War exacerbated the division between the US North and South, during which time the South could be said to start at the Mason-Dixie Line.

    However, the modern conception of the South is not dependent on the Civil War past. Depending on whom you are talking to, different states may be in the South. For instance, there is a debate over whether Washington, DC is located in the South or not.

    It seems most people from the US can agree there is a core of Southern states that are undoubtedly a part of the South. These include Arkansas, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.

    Perceptual Regions US South StudySmarterFig. 4 - US South. Dark red: states nearly everyone considers part of the South; light red: states sometimes included in the South, in whole or part; crosshatching: technically in the South (S of Mason-Dixon Line) but normally not now considered "Southern"

    Not only does the perceptual South incorporate a geographic region, but the US South region also has certain cultural traits. For instance, the US South is associated with a distinct dialect of speech ("Southern accent". There are also said to be Southern values, which can be more traditional in comparison to the rest of the country. Thus, when people refer to the South, they may not just be referring to the location, but these cultural traits as well.

    Perceptual Regions in the US

    In addition to the South, the US has other perceptual regions with fluid boundaries.

    Southern California

    Southern California is a good example of a perceptual region. While there is a Northern California and a Southern California in the sense of cardinal directions, the actual region of Southern California is not formally defined. It is not a political entity.

    California is one of the largest states in the US and it spans over 800 miles of the West Coast. It is agreed that Northern California includes San Francisco, Sacramento, and everything to their north. In comparison, Southern California undoubtedly includes Los Angeles and San Diego, since these cities are located near the US-Mexico border, especially San Diego, which sits on the border.

    As for the areas between Los Angeles and San Francisco, there is no clear answer to where the division between Northern and Southern California lies.

    Perceptual Regions Southern California StudySmarterFig. 5 - General location of Southern California

    The Heartland

    Another example of a US perceptual region is the Heartland. There are various cultural associations with this region: wheat fields, farming tractors, church, and football. Similar to the US South, the American Heartland is founded on traditional values. However, it is not a formal region, as there is no definitive border where the Heartland begins or ends. Instead, it is a region based on perception.

    While there is no clear region, as the name implies, this region exists in the central part of the continental US. It is mostly associated with the Midwest. Due to the perception of its conservative values and economic activities, the Heartland and its small-town farmers are contrasted to America's populous, politically liberal coasts.

    Perceptual Regions in Europe

    Europe has many perceptual regions. Let's discuss a couple.

    Western Europe

    Western Europe is hard to define. There are some countries all designations of the perceptual region undoubtedly include, such as France and the United Kingdom. But beyond that, the countries included in the region can differ. For instance, some definitions of Western Europe include Scandinavian countries of Northern Europe such as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

    Perceptual Regions Western Europe StudySmarterFig. 6 - The dark green of the map depicts the undebated core of Western Europe. The lighter green countries are countries that are sometimes included in the perceptual region of Western Europe

    Western Europe, alongside the US, has come to represent a particular type of society and alliance in geopolitics. For instance, Western Europe has come to represent liberal democracies.

    The Caucasus

    Because Asia and Europe are continents that share a landmass, there are no clear borders between the two. This division is based on perception and it differs depending on one's political affiliation and nationality.

    While most traditional definitions locate the eastern boundary of Europe along the North-South axis of the Ural Mountains in Russia, south and east of there, things begin to get messy. Depending on which river you follow, even part of Kazakhstan can be considered part of Europe!

    Perceptual Regions Caucasus StudySmarterFig. 7 - The Caucasus

    In Europe's southeast, the Caucasus mountains have long been seen as Europe's border, but depending on how you draw the line, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan can all be included or excluded in Europe. All three of these countries do belong to the Council of Europe, but Armenia, for example, is entirely on the southern side of the Caucasus, thus it typically ends up being considered an Asian country. Georgia and Azerbaijan, like Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkey, are transcontinental countries, both Asian and European.

    Most geographers agree that Europe ends at the Thrace Peninsula. Istanbul, a city in Turkey, is seen as being half European and half Asian because it straddles the Turkish Straits that divide European Thrace from Asian Anatolia.

    Perceptual Region - Key takeaways

    • Perceptual regions are real, but they are based not on political division or physical geography but rather on perception.
    • The US has many famous perceptual regions, such as the Heartland, the South, and Silicon Valley.
    • Europe also has some well-known perceptual regions. For instance, Western Europe and the Caucasus region are oft-debated.
    • The Bermuda Triangle and the Australian Outback are also examples of perceptual regions.


    1. Fig. 1 - The American Outback (,_August_2003.jpg) by Gabriele Delhey licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (
    2. Fig. 3 - Map of Silicon Valley ( by licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (
    3. Fig. 4 - Map of the American South ( by Astrokey44 licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (
    4. Fig. 6 - Map of Western Europe ( by Maulucioni licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (
    5. Fig. 7 - Map of Caucasus Region ( by Travelpleb licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Perceptual Region

    What are perceptual regions?

    Perceptual region are regions based on perception rather than being formally defined, concrete regions. 

    How do formal and perceptual regions overlap?

    Formal and perceptual regions can overlap, as perceptual regions are not well-defined and thus will not be in conflict with the borders of formal regions. Perceptual regions can exist within or across formal regions. 

    Why is the south different from other perceptual regions?

    The US South is different from other perceptual regions because people may not even believe that the South is not a formally defined region. The regional boundaries of the South differ from person to person based on their perception of the region.

    What are examples of functional, formal, and perceptual regions?

    An example of a functional region is a school district. An example of a formal region is the US. An example of a perceptual region is the US South. 

    What are the perceptual regions of the United States?

    Perceptual regions of the US include the US South, the Heartland, Southern California, and Silicon Valley, to name just a few. 

    Why are perceptual regions important?

    Perceptual regions are important because even if they are based on perception, they are still real in how humans interact with each other and geographic space. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    All Americans agree on which states are in the South.

    Which of the following is an example of a perceptual region?

    Silicon Valley is formally defined.


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