Schloss Lab Receives Grant to Understand Visual Reasoning

Karen Schloss, Assistant Professor in UW-Madison’s Department of Psychology, has received a grant for $558,702 from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program.  The award is for a project intended to advance the understanding of visual reasoning for visual communication.

Visual reasoning enables people to translate visual input to abstract concepts. For example, to interpret which counties will receive more snowfall using a weather map, it is necessary to figure out which colors on the weather map indicate which amounts of snowfall. People have expectations about how visual features should map to concepts in visualizations, and it is harder for them to interpret visualizations that violate those expectations, even if mappings are clearly labeled. However, the nature of those expectations and their role in visual reasoning is not well-understood, so the design of information visualizations is often unprincipled and ad-hoc. With a better understanding of how visual reasoning works, it will be possible to design visualizations that fit its strengths and optimize visual communication.

The Schloss Visual Reasoning Lab will address this problem by studying how people infer meaning from color in visualizations. This research can be translated to producing online tools for designing visualizations, which will improve STEM education and increase public literacy and engagement with science and technology. Their education plan will use visual communication to make science more accessible and engaging through virtual reality (VR) and accompanying hands-on experiences with color and visualization, for both college undergraduates and middle-school students. The lab will also support broadening participation of females in STEM through mentoring among the PI, graduate student, undergraduate intern, and middle school girls.