When Graph Comprehension Is An Insight Problem

AbstractHow do you make sense of an unconventional graph? Building on research demonstrating that prior knowledge of graphical conventions is difficult to overcome, we reconstrue graph reading as an insight problem. We hypothesize that imposing a mental impasse during a particular type of graph reading task will improve comprehension by inducing a sense of puzzlement, prompting learners to reconsider their interpretation. We find support for this proposal in a between-subjects experiment in which participants presented with an impasse-formulated version of graph reading questions are significantly more likely to correctly interpret a graph featuring an unconventional coordinate system. We characterize the differential patterns of mouse movements for learners between conditions and discuss implications for the use of novel graphical forms in science communication.

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