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Bars and lines: A study of graphic communication


Interpretations of graphs seem to be rooted in principles of cognitive naturalness and information processing rather than arbitrary correspondences. These predict that people should more readily associate bars with discrete comparisons between data points because bars are discrete entities and facilitate point estimates. They should more readily associate lines with trends because lines connect discrete entities and directly represent slope. The predictions were supported in three experiments—two examining comprehension and one production. The correspondence does not seem to depend on explicit knowledge of rules. Instead, it may reflect the influence of the communicative situation as well as the perceptual properties of graphs.

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Correspondence to Jeff Zacks.

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Portions of these results were presented at the 1997 AAAI Symposium on Diagrammatic Reasoning.

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Zacks, J., Tversky, B. Bars and lines: A study of graphic communication. Mem Cogn 27, 1073–1079 (1999).

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  • Line Graph
  • Conceptual Domain
  • Graph Type
  • Graphic Communication
  • Gestalt Principle