Schloss Lab Receives NSF grant to understand visual reasoning

Picture of Karen Schloss
Karen Schloss, recipient of the NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program Grant

Led by Assistant Professor of Psychology Karen Schloss, the Schloss Visual Reasoning Lab investigates how people make conceptual inferences from visual information, and how those inferences influence judgments about the world. Now, armed with a $558,702 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program, Schloss will be able to further 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.