Sequential images are not universal, or Caveats for using visual narratives in experimental tasks


Sequential images have frequently been used as experimental stimuli in the cognitive and psychological sciences to explore topics like theory of mind, temporal cognition, discourse, social intelligence, and event sequencing, among others. The assumption has been that sequential images provide a fairly universal and transparent stimuli that require little to no learning to decode, and thus are ideal for non-verbal tasks in developmental, clinical, and non-literate populations. However, decades of cross-cultural and developmental research have actually suggested something different: that sequential image comprehension is contingent on exposure and practice with a graphic system. I here review this literature and advocate for more sensitivity to the “fluency” needed to understand sequential images.

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