Bar and Line Graph Comprehension: An Interaction of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Processes
Version of Record online: 11 DEC 2009
Copyright © 2009 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Topics in Cognitive Science
Volume 3, Issue 3, pages 560–578, July 2011
How to Cite
Shah, P. and Freedman, E. G. (2011), Bar and Line Graph Comprehension: An Interaction of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Processes. Topics in Cognitive Science, 3: 560–578. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2009.01066.x
- Issue online: 11 DEC 2009
- Version of Record online: 11 DEC 2009
- Received 5 May 2009; received in revised form 31 August 2009; accepted 3 September 2009
- Graph comprehension;
- Display design;
- Individual differences
This experiment investigated the effect of format (line vs. bar), viewers’ familiarity with variables, and viewers’ graphicacy (graphical literacy) skills on the comprehension of multivariate (three variable) data presented in graphs. Fifty-five undergraduates provided written descriptions of data for a set of 14 line or bar graphs, half of which depicted variables familiar to the population and half of which depicted variables unfamiliar to the population. Participants then took a test of graphicacy skills. As predicted, the format influenced viewers’ interpretations of data. Specifically, viewers were more likely to describe x–y interactions when viewing line graphs than when viewing bar graphs, and they were more likely to describe main effects and “z–y” (the variable in the legend) interactions when viewing bar graphs than when viewing line graphs. Familiarity of data presented and individuals’ graphicacy skills interacted with the influence of graph format. Specifically, viewers were most likely to generate inferences only when they had high graphicacy skills, the data were familiar and thus the information inferred was expected, and the format supported those inferences. Implications for multivariate data display are discussed.