An empirical study on using visual metaphors in visualization

IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 18 (12):2759-2768 (2012)
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In written and spoken communications, metaphors are often used as an aid to help convey abstract or less tangible concepts. However, the benefits of using visual metaphors in visualization have so far been inconclusive. In this work, we report an empirical study to evaluate hypotheses that visual metaphors may aid memorization, visual search and concept comprehension. One major departure from previous metaphor-related experiments in the literature is that we make use of a dual-task methodology in our experiment. This design offers an abstraction of typical situations where viewers do not have their full attention focused on visualization (e.g., in meetings and classes). The use of the secondary task introduces “divided attention”, and makes the effects of visual metaphors more observable. In addition, it also serves as additional masking in memory-based trials. The results of this study show that visual metaphors can help participants better remember the information depicted in visualization. On the other hand, visual metaphors can have a negative impact on the speed of visual search. The results also show a complex pattern as to the benefits of visual metaphors in helping participants grasp key concepts from visualization.

Author's Profile

Luciano Floridi
Yale University


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