Introduction to Volume 3, Issue 3 of topiCS


This issue of topiCS is devoted to The Cognitive Science of Visual Displays: Implications for Design. Topic Editor Mary Hegarty (UC Santa Barbara) has assembled seven papers that extend cognitive science theory in pursuit of understanding the design and interpretation of abstract data represented in visual displays. This topic and these papers provide what David Stokes (1997) would have described as work in Pasteur’s Quadrant; namely, research directed toward the solution of an important practical problem whose solution will require transformative advances in basic theory. Conveying information through visual displays is a topic that is increasingly important in many fields. Undergraduates still struggle to interpret simple line plots while scientists and engineers of all stripes struggle with ways to display and manipulate massive, multidimensional datasets so as to better support the discovery of underlying patterns. Indeed, the importance of this topic has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by their establishment of national and regional centers for research in visual analytics (e.g., see and by other agencies as diverse as the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Department of Education (to name some of the agencies acknowledged by the authors of these papers). In her introductory survey, Hegarty reviews some of the vast research that has accumulated over the past 20 years. This is a notably diverse area of cognitive science with papers appearing in journals primarily devoted to human factors, educational research, information science, human-computer interaction, and cognitive psychology. In addition, much of this work has been published outside the journal review systems in monographs, edited volumes, specialty conferences, and government reports. Clearly, it is time to bring this work home to Cognitive Science and just as clearly Hegarty and her assemblage of distinguished researchers have done just that.

As always, topiCS encourages commentaries and new topics. Send your commentaries directly to me at along with a short note. If you are proposing a topic, please open communications with a short first note (about 300–650 words or fewer) and be sure to consult the topiCS FAQ page,, for Preparing a Proposal for topiCS.