Graphics are often intended to engage children in learning otherwise dry material, such as data on a chart, but efforts to make charts more appealing artistically canthe information they represent, according to new research.
Writing this month in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Ohio State University psychologists Jennifer Kaminski and Vladimir M. Sloutsky describe four experiments in which 122 middle-class 6- to 8-year-olds learned to read basic bar charts. Some of the charts used solid bars, while others depicted the same information using stacks of countable objects, such as cartoon shoes or flowers.
The researchers found students often mistakenly tried to count the individual objects in the stacked charts, rather than reading the chart data. As a result, students exposed to the countable stacks performed significantly lower on comprehending the chart when the number of items stacked differed from the real data.
When then exposed to a basic chart without countable objects, the children could not read it.
A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2013 edition of Education Week as Graphic Comprehension