Peebles, David (2008) The effect of emergent features on judgments of quantity in configural and separable displays. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14 (12). pp. 85-100. ISSN 1076-898X

Two experiments investigated effects of emergent features on perceptual judgments of comparative magnitude in three diagrammatic representations: kiviat charts, bar graphs and line graphs. Experiment 1 required participants to compare individual values whereas in Experiment 2 participants had to integrate several values to produce a global comparison. In Experiment 1 emergent features of the diagrams resulted in significant distortions of magnitude judgments, each related to a common geometric illusion. Emergent features are also widely believed to underlie the general superiority of configural displays such as kiviat charts for tasks requiring the integration of information. Experiment 2 tested the extent of this benefit using diagrams with a wide range of values. Contrary to the results of previous studies, the configural display produced the poorest performance compared to the more separable displays. Moreover, the pattern of responses suggests that kiviat users switched from an integration strategy to a sequential one depending on the shape of the diagram. The experiments demonstrate the powerful interaction between emergent visual properties and cognition and reveal limits to the benefits of configural displays for integration tasks.

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