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Interpretation of quantities displayed in pictorial charts
T. Rolfes

Interpretation of quantities displayed in pictorial charts

Frontiers in Psychology, 12, [609027]

This brief research report presents an experiment investigating how people interpret quantities displayed in pictorial charts. Pictorial charts are a popular form of data visualization in media. They represent different quantities with differently scaled pictures. In the present study, 63 university students answered a 12-item questionnaire containing three different pictorial charts. The study aimed to evaluate how individuals perceive the quantities in the pictorial charts intuitively. Therefore, the students' answers were not rated as correct or incorrect. Instead, it was analyzed which functional relationship between scale factor and estimated quantity best described people's interpretation of pictorial charts. The experiment showed that, on average, a model assuming a quadratic relationship fitted best. This result deviates from research that found an overgeneralization of linearity when students compare the areas of two mathematically similar shapes. It may be that the routines for the interpretation of pictures differ considerably depending on whether a person must calculate a quantity arithmetically or is prompted to estimate the quantity based on visual perception.