Evaluating Free Rides and Observational Advantages in Set Visualizations

Andrew Blake, Gem Stapleton, Peter Rodgers, Anestis Touloumis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Free rides and observational advantages occur in visualizations when they reveal facts that must be inferred from an alternative representation. Understanding whether these concepts correspond to cognitive advantages is important: do they facilitate information extraction, saving the `deductive cost' of making inferences? This paper presents the first evaluations of free rides and observational advantages in visualizations of sets compared to text. We found that, for Euler and linear diagrams, free rides and observational advantages yielded significant improvements in task performance. For Venn diagrams, whilst their observational advantages yielded significant performance benefits over text, this was not universally true for free rides. The consequences are two-fold: more research is needed to establish when free rides are beneficial, and the results suggest that observational advantages better explain the cognitive advantages of diagrams over text. A take-away message is that visualizations with observational advantages are likely to be cognitively advantageous over competing representations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Logic, Language and Information
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Mar 2021


  • linear diagrams
  • Venn Diagrams
  • Euler Diagrams
  • Free rides
  • observational advantages

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