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Investigating the cognitive processing of spatiotemporal data presented on maps

WorkgroupRealistic Depictions
FundingIWM budget resources
Project description

Increasingly available spatiotemporal data (e.g. the development of average temperatures across the globe) needs effective means of communication to be understandable and usable by the public. A visualization format gaining popularity is the thematic dynamic map. This dissertation project, therefore, investigates the processes involved in perceiving, comprehending, and interpreting data presented on dynamic maps.

Visuospatial displays, in general, are assumed to support cognition by decreasing the demand for memory resources, organizing information, and allowing the replacement of cognitive with perceptual processes and actions. Thematic maps allow us to virtually visualize properties not observable in the real world due to their non-visual nature or their temporal or geographic scale. Dynamic maps especially allow us to visualize processes and their underlying causal links through animation, which are difficult to communicate otherwise. At the same time, thematic maps are always the product of preprocessing and the design choices of their creators, which can impact the conclusions drawn by their users.

The framework used to study the basic cognitive processing of dynamic maps is the Event Segmentation Theory (EST), which postulates that people observing continuous dynamic scenes divide them into meaningful units or events. The first block of studies showed that basic findings from the field of event segmentation can also be applied to dynamic data maps: People viewing dynamic maps agree on when they perceive a meaningful event. Further studies will investigate how the spatial properties of maps influence this process and how it affects higher cognition, such as memory.

Understanding the cognitive processing of dynamic maps may aid in creating more effective and broadly accessible data visualizations, which lay the groundwork for well-informed formation of public opinions.


Reena Pauly Reena Pauly
Tel.: +49 7071 979-216