Visual Comparison of Diagonal Structures: More
Evidence for Spatial Alignment

Bryan J. Matlen , Steven L. Franconeri, and Dedre Gentner 

Full paper


Comparing diagrammatic representations is an effective way to grasp underlying spatial relationships, and the placement of diagrams can affect the efficiency of comparison. Recently, Matlen, Gentner, and Franconeri (2020) proposed the spatial alignment hypothesis – that visual comparison is optimized when visuals are placed perpendicular to their main structural axes. In their study, comparison was most efficient for visuals in direct placement (e.g., visuals with horizontal axes placed vertically) relative to impeded placement (e.g., horizontal axes placed horizontally), and vice versa for visuals with vertical axes. However, still untested is whether spatial alignment applies beyond horizontal or vertical spatial structures. We explore this question using diagonally structured visuals, and find that the predictions of spatial alignment bear out: participants are faster and more accurate for direct relative to impeded alignments, suggesting that spatial alignment is a broadly relevant principle for visual comparison. We discuss our results in relation to design and instruction.

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