Toward a Comprehensive Model of Graph Comprehension: Making the Case for Spatial Cognition

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We argue that a comprehensive model of graph comprehension must include spatial cognition. We propose that current models of graph comprehension have not needed to incorporate spatial processes, because most of the task/graph combinations used in the psychology laboratory are very simple and can be addressed using perceptual processes. However, data from our own research in complex domains that use complex graphs shows extensive use of spatial processing. We propose an extension to current models of graph comprehension in which spatial processing occurs a) when information is not explicitly represented in the graph and b) when simple perceptual processes are inadequate to extract that implicit information. We apply this model extension to some previously published research on graph comprehension from different labs, and find that it is able to account for the results.