Zhicheng Liu

Research on Human-Data Interaction

Cognition & Interaction in InfoVis

There is a general movement within contemporary cognitive science to account for the role of the environment (social, cultural, and material) in shaping and participation in cognition.  The classical perspective that conceives the environment as inputs to be computed by a machine-like brain is often criticized for its underlying dualistic notion. Many “environmental perspectives” emphasize that cognition is embodied, enculturated, situated in local interactions, and distributed or stretched across humans and artifacts.

We explore the implications of this trend specific in the InfoVis context. In particular, we argue that the distributed cognition approach serves as a useful theoretical framework for InfoVis. Unlike classical cognitive science, InfoVis has been always emphasizing the importance of interactive external visualizations – as epitomized in the “external cognition” approach. This almost exclusive focus on external representations risks trivializing internal representations, hence still takes a dualistic stance that assumes a fundamental separability between internal and external representations. The distributed cognition approach puts things in an ecologically dynamic perspective, where cognition is argued to be an emergent property of the interaction between internal and external representations.

As a first step to examine internal representations and the external/internal interplay in InfoVis, we explore the concept of “mental model” and its applicability for InfoVis. By introducing mental model as a theoretical construct, our understanding of interaction in InfoVis can go beyond merely interaction techniques. Instead, interaction in visualization-enhanced reasoning can be understood as active modeling for three primary purposes: external anchoring, information foraging and cognitive offloading.

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