Graph Comprehension: An Experiment in Displaying Data as Bar Charts, Pie Charts and Tables With and Without the Gratuitous 3rd Dimension

Posted: 24 Sep 2008

See all articles by Matthias Schonlau

Matthias Schonlau

University of Waterloo

Ellen Peters

Ohio State University - Psychology Department; Decision Research; University of Oregon

Date Written: September 23, 2008

Abstract

The authors investigated whether the type of data display (bar chart, pie chart, or table) or adding a gratuitous third dimension (shading to give the illusion of depth) affects the accuracy of answers of questions about the data. They conducted a randomized experiment with 897 members of the American Life Panel, a nationally representative US web survey panel. They found that displaying data in a table lead to more accurate answers than the choice of bar charts or pie charts. Adding a gratuitous third dimension had no effect on the accuracy of the answers for the bar chart and a small but significant negative effect for the pie chart. Viewing the graph/table for less than 8 seconds resulted in less accurate answers. Older age was associated with increased average viewing time (1.2 seconds per 10 years increase in age) but did not affect the accuracy of the answers. Greater numeracy was associated with more accurate answers.

Suggested Citation

Schonlau, Matthias and Peters, Ellen, Graph Comprehension: An Experiment in Displaying Data as Bar Charts, Pie Charts and Tables With and Without the Gratuitous 3rd Dimension (September 23, 2008). RAND Working Paper Series No. WR- 618. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1272627

Matthias Schonlau (Contact Author)

University of Waterloo ( email )

Waterloo, Ontario
Canada

Ellen Peters

Ohio State University - Psychology Department ( email )

Blankenship Hall-2010
901 Woody Hayes Drive
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

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