A Holey Perspective on Venn Diagrams

Cognitive Science 46 (1):e13073 (2021)
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When interpreting the meanings of visual features in information visualizations, observers have expectations about how visual features map onto concepts (inferred mappings.) In this study, we examined whether aspects of inferred mappings that have been previously identified for colormap data visualizations generalize to a different type of visualization, Venn diagrams. Venn diagrams offer an interesting test case because empirical evidence about the nature of inferred mappings for colormaps suggests that established conventions for Venn diagrams are counterintuitive. Venn diagrams represent classes using overlapping circles and express logical relationships between those classes by shading out regions to encode the concept of non-existence, or none. We propose that people do not simply expect shading to signify non-existence, but rather they expect regions that appear as holes to signify non-existence (the hole hypothesis.) The appearance of a hole depends on perceptual properties in the diagram in relation to its background. Across three experiments, results supported the hole hypothesis, underscoring the importance of configural processing for interpreting the meanings of visual features in information visualizations.

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Kevin J. Lande
York University


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