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I am searching for experimental studies, by Cleveland or anyone else, that test differences in the accuracy of quantitative judgements (or related aspects of visual perception) based on whether data are presented in a horizontal vs. vertical layout.

  • I am generally aware of Cleveland's work (e.g. Cleveland and McGill 1984, 1987) and of many similar experiments done subsequently by others (e.g. Heer and Bostock 2010, Kennedy 2016), but am not aware of any that explicitly consider horizontal vs vertical orientation. A comment below this answer suggests that there's some material in Ch. 4 of the 1985 edition of Cleveland's Elements of Graphing Data; I have looked at the revised (1994) edition on the Internet Archive but don't see anything; I will have to wait to get a copy of the first edition by interlibrary loan I found a pirated PDF of the 1985 edition online, and see nothing relevant in Ch. 4 there either (only the "Cleveland hierarchy" stuff I knew about already) ...

  • I am aware of discussions of the relative merits of horizontal vs vertical layouts, but as far as I've seen these boil down to the criteria of (1) ease of label positioning/reading (2) cultural conventions in a particular field (3) visual metaphors (4) overall presentation layout/available space (e.g. see here, not anything about perception. (I've also think I've seen speculations about whether perception would differ between Western cultures accustomed to horizontal [mostly left-to-right] reading and Eastern cultures accustomed to vertical reading ...)

If the experiment hasn't been done maybe someone should try it ...


Cleveland, William S., and Robert McGill. 1984. “Graphical Perception: Theory, Experimentation, and Application to the Development of Graphical Methods.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 79 (387): 531–54. https://doi.org/10.2307/2288400.

———. 1987. “Graphical Perception: The Visual Decoding of Quantitative Information on Graphical Displays of Data.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (General) 150 (3): 192–229. https://doi.org/10.2307/2981473.

Elliott, Kennedy. 2016. “39 Studies about Human Perception in 30 Minutes.” Kennedy Elliott (blog). May 2, 2016. https://medium.com/@kennelliott/39-studies-about-human-perception-in-30-minutes-4728f9e31a73.

Heer, Jeffrey, and Michael Bostock. 2010. “Crowdsourcing Graphical Perception: Using Mechanical Turk to Assess Visualization Design.” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 203–12. ACM.

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    $\begingroup$ I can't speak specifically to literature wrt your question but Gerd Gigerenzer's several books on how data is presented and perceived should be a good place to start. You might try emailing him at the Max Planck Institute with your question. Another possible source is Dan Goldstein at www.dangoldstein.com $\endgroup$
    – user78229
    Mar 16 at 1:14
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    $\begingroup$ Stephen Kosslyn's books give many references to literature on graph perception. Despite the fine intentions of this work, its results, or the implications discerned, are not always compelling. I posted a review at Amazon.com but several people rate the book more highly than I do. amazon.com/Graph-Design-Mind-Stephen-Kosslyn/dp/0195306627 $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Mar 16 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeHunter, nothing comes up in google/google scholar searches that suggests that either Gigerenzer or Goldstein has done a lot on data visualization specifically (a little bit about graphical representations of uncertainty, but I don't see anything in the direction I'm asking about ...) $\endgroup$
    – Ben Bolker
    Mar 16 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ Whatever....try contacting them directly with your questions. The online go-to guy for visualization questions is Kaiser Fung's Junk Charts blog. FWIW. $\endgroup$
    – user78229
    Mar 18 at 0:58

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