Why are hurricane visualizations so confusing? In this peer-reviewed publication, we discover new biases that lead to errors when making judgments with hurricane path visualizations.
Title: The Powerful Influence of Marks: Visual and Knowledge-Driven
Processing in Hurricane Track Displays
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Publication Date: Online September 2019
Authors: Lace M. K. Padilla, Sarah H. Creem-Regehr, and William Thompson
People use data visualizations with uncertainty to make large-scale policy decisions such as where to allocate resources before a natural disaster and more personal life and death decision such a whether to evacuate before a forecasted hurricane. The current work evaluates how visualization techniques influence reasoning during hazard events and leads to practical recommendations for how to help viewers make their best possible decisions with ensemble hurricane forecast visualizations.
Given the widespread use of visualizations to communicate hazard risks, forecast visualizations must be as effective to interpret as possible. However, despite incorporating best practices, visualizations can influence viewer judgments in ways that the designers did not anticipate. Visualization designers should understand the full implications of visualization techniques and seek to develop visualizations that account for the complexities in decision-making. The current study explores the influence of visualizations of uncertainty by examining a case in which ensemble hurricane forecast visualizations produce unintended interpretations. We show that people estimate more damage to a location that is overlapped by a track in an ensemble hurricane forecast visualization compared to a location that does not coincide with a track. We find that this effect can be partially reduced by manipulating the number of hurricane paths displayed, suggesting the importance of visual features of a display on decision making. Providing instructions about the information conveyed in the ensemble display also reduced the effect, but importantly, did not eliminate it. These findings illustrate the powerful influence of marks and their encodings on decision-making with visualizations.