Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Chart Junk? How Pictures May Help Make Graphs Better

Date:
November 5, 2009
Source:
North Carolina State University
Summary:
Those oft-maligned, and highly embellished, graphs and charts in newspapers may actually help people understand data more effectively than traditional graphs, according to new research.

New research shows that highly embellished graphs and charts may actually help people understand data more effectively than traditional graphs.
Credit: iStockphoto/Jeff Metzger

Those oft-maligned, and highly embellished, graphs and charts in newspapers and other media outlets may actually help people understand data more effectively than traditional graphs, according to new research from North Carolina State University.

Related Articles


Newspapers and magazines often embellish charts or graphs to draw attention to them or to highlight information. Some experts describe these graphic embellishments as "chart junk," which they argue detracts from a graph or chart's effectiveness. So, can those graphics be too distracting, making it more difficult or time-consuming to read a graph accurately?

Researchers from NC State and the University of Idaho show that the answer is yes, and no.

When people look at charts or graphs, two things happen. In the first stage, a person quickly (and unconsciously) takes in all the elements of the image at the same time. In this stage any contrasting features "pop out" at the viewer, explains Dr. Doug Gillan, co-author of the study and professor and head of psychology at NC State. In the second stage, which is slower and requires some focused attention, the viewer examines each component of the graph or chart separately.

"Imagine a bar graph showing the number of ACC championships won by each school's basketball team," Gillan says. "In the second stage the viewer is examining each bar in the graph to see which team has won the most championships."

To determine whether design elements -- such as background pictures -- affect a viewer's ability to read a graph, the researchers ran an experiment using rectangular bar graphs. They tested how accurately people could read the bar graph when it was presented against three different backgrounds: a blank background, a background filled with rectangles, and a background filled with circles.

The researchers found that people were most accurate when reading the bar graph against a background filled with circles -- the contrast between the rectangular bars and the circles made the graph pop out during that first stage. People performed worse when the background was blank, and worst when the bar graph was displayed against a background that contained rectangular shapes.

In other words, background images can actually enhance one's ability to read a chart or graph -- as long as the images contrast with the chart or graph itself. If the background image is too similar, it can actually make it more difficult to read the chart or graph accurately.

The research, "Effects of Graph Backgrounds on Visual Search," was co-authored by Gillan and Dr. Douglas Sorenson of the University of Idaho. The work was presented Oct. 22 at the 53d Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in San Antonio.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by North Carolina State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

North Carolina State University. "Chart Junk? How Pictures May Help Make Graphs Better." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091104101547.htm>.
North Carolina State University. (2009, November 5). Chart Junk? How Pictures May Help Make Graphs Better. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091104101547.htm
North Carolina State University. "Chart Junk? How Pictures May Help Make Graphs Better." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091104101547.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AAA: Distracted Driving a Serious Teen Problem

AP (Mar. 25, 2015) While distracted driving is not a new problem for teens, new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says it&apos;s much more serious than previously thought. (March 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Smartphone Use Changing Our Brain and Thumb Interaction, Say Researchers

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) European researchers say our smartphone use offers scientists an ideal testing ground for human brain plasticity. Dr Ako Ghosh&apos;s team discovered that the brains and thumbs of smartphone users interact differently from those who use old-fashioned handsets. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Many Don't Know They Have Alzheimer's, But Their Doctors Do

Newsy (Mar. 24, 2015) According to a new study by the Alzheimer&apos;s Association, more than half of those who have the degenerative brain disease aren&apos;t told by their doctors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

A Quick 45-Minute Nap Can Improve Your Memory

Newsy (Mar. 23, 2015) Researchers found those who napped for 45 minutes to an hour before being tested on information recalled it five times better than those who didn&apos;t. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins