[R] perception of graphical data

John Fox jfox at mcmaster.ca
Fri Aug 24 20:54:24 CEST 2007

Dear Richard,

Though slightly dated, the following article is a nice summary of the
literature on graphical perception:

Lewandowsky, S & Spence, I. (1989) The perception of statistical
graphs. Sociological Methods and Research, 18, 200-242.

I hope this helps,

On Fri, 24 Aug 2007 13:30:56 -0400
 "Yeh, Richard C" <richard.c.yeh at bankofamerica.com> wrote:
> Hello,
> I apologize that this is off-topic.  I am seeking information on
> perception of graphical data, in an effort to improve the plots I
> produce.  Would anyone point me to literature reviews in this area?
>  (Or
> keywords to try on google?)  Is this located somewhere near cognitive
> science, psychology, human factors research?
> For example, some specific questions I have are:
> I recall as a child when I first saw a map where the areas of the
> containers (geographical states) were drawn as rectangles,
> proportional
> to a quantity other than land area.  Does anyone know of an algorithm
> for drawing such maps?  Would anyone know of a journal or reference
> where I can find studies on whether subjects reading these maps can
> accurately assess the meaning of the different areas, as [some of us]
> can assess different heights on a bar graph?  (What about areas in
> bar
> graphs with non-uniform widths?)
> Scatter plots of microarray data often attempt to represent thousands
> or
> tens of thousands of points, but all I read from them are density and
> distribution --- the gene names cannot be shown.  At what point,
> would a
> sunflowerplot-like display or a smooth gradient be better?  When two
> data points drawn as 50% gray disks are small and tangent, are they
> perceptually equivalent to a single, 100% black disk?  Or a 50% gray
> disk with twice the area?  What problems are known about plotting
> with
> disks --- do viewers use the area or the diameter (or neither) to
> gauge
> weight?
> As you can tell, I'm a non-expert, mixing issues of data
> interpretation,
> visual perception, graphic representation.  Previously, I didn't have
> the flexibility of R's graphics, so I didn't need to think so much.
> I've read some of Edward S. Tufte's books, but found them more
> qualitative than quantitative.
> Thanks!
> Richard
> 212-933-3305 / richard.c.yeh at bankofamerica.com
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John Fox, Professor
Department of Sociology
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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