By Gretchen L. Gottlich
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Pictures as Sensory Languages The question of whether pictures and diagrams are purely conventional, or are perceptual symbols with special properties, has been the subject of considerable scientific investigation. A good place to begin reviewing the evidence is the perception of pictures. There has been a debate over the last century between those who claim that pictures are every bit as arbitrary as words and those who believe that there may be a measure of similarity between pictures and the things that they represent.
These classes of data can be very useful in discussing visualization techniques. For example, here are two generalizations: (1) Using graphic size (as in a bar chart) to display category information is likely to be misleading, because we tend to interpret size as representing quantity. (2) If we map measurements to color, we can perceive nominal or, at best, ordinal values, with a few discrete steps. Perceiving metric intervals using color is not very effective. Many visualization techniques are capable of conveying only nominal or ordinal data qualities.
Sensory immediacy: The processing of certain kinds of sensory information is hard-wired and fast. We can represent information in certain ways that are neurally processed in parallel. 8, which shows five different textured regions. The two regions on the left are almost impossible to separate. The upright Ts and inverted Ts appear to be a single patch. The region of oblique Ts is easy to differentiate from the neighboring region of inverted Ts. The circles are the easiest to distinguish (Beck, 1966).