Braithwaite, D. W., & Goldstone, R. L. (2014). Spatial organization and presentation mode in the representation of complex data. Proceedings of the Thirty-Sixth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 230-235). Quebec City, Canada: Cognitive Science Society.
External representations are more effective when spatial dimensions are used to represent numeric variables. However, this principle may result in suboptimal representations when the number of numeric variables to be represented is large. To test this possibility, participants studied a set of graphs representing a parametrized function under different parameter values. The graphs were displayed either using a grid organization, with parameter values represented by spatial dimensions (horizontal and vertical position of the graphs), or juxtaposed in a single area, with parameter values represented by non-spatial dimensions (color and texture). Juxtaposed organization led to better learning. However, this advantage was eliminated when the graphs were presented successively rather than simultaneously. The results suggest that juxtaposed organization can improve comprehension of complex data by facilitating comparison between parts of the data. Such organization may be preferable even if it precludes use of spatial dimensions for some numeric variables.