Graphical perception is the human capacity for visually interpreting information on graphs and charts. Both quantitative and qualitative information can be said to be encoded into the image, and the human capacity to interpret it is sometimes called decoding.[1] The importance of human graphical perception, what we discern easily versus what our brains have more difficulty decoding, is fundamental to good statistical graphics design, where clarity, transparency, accuracy and precision in data display and interpretation are essential for understanding the translation of data in a graph to clarify and interpret the science.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

Graphical perception is achieved in dimensions or steps of discernment by:

Cleveland and McGill's experiments[1] to elucidate the graphical elements humans detect most accurately is a fundamental component of good statistical graphics design principles.[2][3][5][6][8][9][10][11][12] In practical terms, graphs displaying relative position on a common scale most accurately are most effective. A graph type that utilizes this element is the dot plot. Conversely, angles are perceived with less accuracy; an example is the pie chart. Humans do not naturally order color hues. Only a limited number of hues can be discriminated in one graphic.

Graphic designs that utilize visual pre-attentive processing in the graph design's assembly is why a picture can be worth a thousand words by using the brain's ability to perceive patterns. Not all graphs are designed to consider pre-attentive processing. For example in the attached figure, a graphic design feature, table look-up, requires the brain to work harder and take longer to decode than if the graph utilizes our ability to discern patterns.[3]

Graphic design that readily answers the scientific questions of interest will include appropriate estimation. Details for choosing the appropriate graph type for continuous and categorical data and for grouping have been described.[6][13] Graphics principles for accuracy, clarity and transparency have been detailed[2][3][4][14] and key elements summarized.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b Cleveland, William; McGill, Robert (1984). "Graphical Perception and Graphical Methods for Analyzing Scientific Data". Journal of the American Statistical Association. 79 (387): 531–544. doi:10.1080/01621459.1984.10478080. JSTOR 2288400.
  2. ^ a b c Cleveland, William (1993). Visualizing Data. Summit, New Jersey: Hobart Press. ISBN 0-9634884-0-6.
  3. ^ a b c d Cleveland, William (1994). The elements of graphing data. Summit, New Jersey: Hobart Press. ISBN 0-9634884-1-4.
  4. ^ a b Tufte, Edward (2001). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, Connecticut: Graphics Press. ISBN 1930824130.
  5. ^ a b Harrell, Jr, Frank (April 24, 2017). "PRINCIPLES OF GRAPH CONSTRUCTION" (PDF). Vanderbilt. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Duke, Susan; Bancken, Fabrice; Crowe, Brenda; Soup, Mat; Botsis, Taxiarchis; Forshee, Richard (2015). "Seeing is believing: good graphic design principles for medical research". Statistics in Medicine. 34 (22): 3040–3059. doi:10.1002/sim.6549. PMID 26112209. S2CID 36793148.
  7. ^ Angra, Aakanksha; Gardner, Stephanie (2017). "Reflecting on Graphs: Attributes of Graph Choice and Construction Practices in Biology". CBE: Life Sciences Education. 16 (3): ar53. doi:10.1187/cbe.16-08-0245. PMC 5589433. PMID 28821538.
  8. ^ Cleveland, William; McGill, Robert (1985). "Graphical Perception and Graphical Methods for Analyzing Scientific Data". Science. 229 (4716): 828–833. Bibcode:1985Sci...229..828C. doi:10.1126/science.229.4716.828. PMID 17777913. S2CID 16342041.
  9. ^ Robbins, Naomi (2005). Creating More Effective Graphs. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 47–62. ISBN 0985911123.
  10. ^ Carswell, C. Melody (1992). "Choosing Specifiers: An Evaluation of the Basic Tasks Model of Graphical Perception". Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. 34 (5): 535–554. doi:10.1177/001872089203400503. PMID 1459565. S2CID 19818462.
  11. ^ Hollands, J. G.; Spence, Ian (1992). "Judgments of Change and Proportion in Graphical Perception". Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. 34 (3): 313–334. doi:10.1177/001872089203400306. PMID 1634243. S2CID 28097022.
  12. ^ "Graph Design Rule #2: Explain your encodings". Flowing Data. 2010-08-26. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  13. ^ Bancken, Fabrice (September 6, 2012). "Select the Right Graph". CTSpedia Safety Graphics Home. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  14. ^ Harrell, Jr, Frank (April 24, 2017). "Graphics for Clinical Trials". Vanderbilt Dept of Biostatistics. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  15. ^ Lane, Peter; Duke, Susan (Aug 12, 2012). "Best Practices Recommendations". CTSpedia Safety Graphics Home. Retrieved June 10, 2018.