24 Oct 2022
24 Oct 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Understanding representations of uncertainty, an eye-tracking study part I: The effect of anchoring

Kelsey J. Mulder1,a, Louis Williams2, Matthew Lickiss3, Alison Black3, Andrew Charlton-Perez1, Rachel McCloy2, and Eugene McSorley2 Kelsey J. Mulder et al.
  • 1Department of Meteorology, University of Reading
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Reading
  • 3Department of Typography and Graphic Communication, University of Reading
  • acurrently at: Liberty Specialty Markets, 20 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 3AW, UK

Abstract. Geoscience communicators must think carefully about how uncertainty is represented and how users may interpret these representations. Doing so will help communicate risk more effectively, which can elicit appropriate responses. Recently, communication of uncertainty has come to the forefront over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the lessons learned from communication during the pandemic can be adopted across geosciences as well. To test interpretations of environmental forecasts with uncertainty, a decision task survey was administered to 65 participants who saw different hypothetical forecast representations common to presentations of environmental data and forecasts: deterministic, spaghetti plot with and without a median line, fan plot with and without a median line, and box plot with and without a median line. While participants completed the survey, their eye movements were monitored with eye-tracking software. Participants’ eye movements were anchored to the median line, not focusing on possible extreme values to the same extent as when no median line was present. Additionally, participants largely correctly interpreted extreme values from the spaghetti and fan plots, but misinterpreted extreme values from the box plot, perhaps because participants spent little time fixating on the key. These results suggest that anchoring lines, such as median lines, should only be used where users should be guided to particular values and where extreme values are not as important in data interpretation. Additionally, fan or spaghetti plots should be considered instead of box plots to reduce misinterpretation of extreme values. Further study on the role of expertise and the change in eye movements across the graph area and key is explored in more detail in the companion paper to this study.

Kelsey J. Mulder et al.

Status: open (until 23 Dec 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-927', Anonymous Referee #1, 17 Nov 2022 reply

Kelsey J. Mulder et al.

Kelsey J. Mulder et al.


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Short summary
It is vital that uncertainty in environmental forecasting is graphically presented to enable people to use and interpret it correctly. Using novel eye-tracking methods, we show that where people look and the decisions they make are both strongly influenced by construction of forecast representations common in presentations of environmental data. This suggests that forecasters should construct their presentations carefully so that they help people to extract important information more easily.