Benefits of Graphical and Symbolic Representations for Learning and Transfer of Statistical Concepts


Past research suggests that spatial configurations play an important role in graph comprehension. The present study investigates consequences of this fact for the relative utility of graphs and tables for interpreting data. Participants judged presence or absence of various statistical effects in simulated datasets presented in various formats. For the statistical effects introduced earlier in the study, performance was better with graphs than with tables, while for the effect introduced last in the study, this trend reversed. Additionally, in the later sections of the study, responses with graphs, but not tables, reflected increasing influence from the presence of stimulus features which had been relevant earlier in the study, but were no longer relevant. The findings suggest that graphs, relative to tables, may better facilitate perception of complex relationships among data points, but may also bias readers more strongly to favor some perspectives over others when interpreting data.

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