No mark is an island: Precision and category repulsion biases in data reproductions

Caitlyn M. McColeman, Lane Harrison, Mi Feng, Steven Franconeri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Data visualization is powerful in large part because it facilitates visual extraction of values. Yet, existing measures of perceptual precision for data channels (e.g., position, length, orientation, etc.) are based largely on verbal reports of ratio judgments between two values (e.g., [7]). Verbal report conflates multiple sources of error beyond actual visual precision, introducing a ratio computation between these values and a requirement to translate that ratio to a verbal number. Here we observe raw measures of precision by eliminating both ratio computations and verbal reports; we simply ask participants to reproduce marks (a single bar or dot) to match a previously seen one. We manipulated whether the mark was initially presented (and later drawn) alone, paired with a reference (e.g. a second '100%' bar also present at test, or a y-axis for the dot), or integrated with the reference (merging that reference bar into a stacked bar graph, or placing the dot directly on the axis). Reproductions of smaller values were overestimated, and larger values were underestimated, suggesting systematic memory biases. Average reproduction error was around 10% of the actual value, regardless of whether the reproduction was done on a common baseline with the original. In the reference and (especially) the integrated conditions, responses were repulsed from an implicit midpoint of the reference mark, such that values above 50% were overestimated, and values below 50% were underestimated. This reproduction paradigm may serve within a new suite of more fundamental measures of the precision of graphical perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9288884
Pages (from-to)1063-1072
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Cognition and perception
  • Graphical perception
  • Perceptual biases
  • Ratio perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Signal Processing
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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