Using Selective Attention Theory to Design Bivariate Point Symbols

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Elisabeth S. Nelson, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:

Abstract: The research discussed in this paper applies the theory of selective attention to graphic variables used in designing map symbols. Selective attention contends that our ability to analyze a symbols graphic variables (i.e., color, size) is affected by other graphic variables present in the same symbol. Psychological research suggests that certain combinations of graphic variables can enhance or restrict selective attention. In this literature, variables are described as either separable (capable of being attended to independently of other dimensions), integral (cannot be processed without interference from other dimensions), or configural (shows characteristics of both integrality and separability and may also form new, emergent properties). For example, sometimes it may be desirable for a map user to focus individually on separate symbol dimensions when using a bivariate or multivariate map, whereas under other conditions it may be advantageous for him/her to integrate the graphic variables visually for interpretation. Without empirical evidence describing such interactions for various combinations of graphic variables, cartographers cannot truly evaluate the functionality of the symbols they use on maps. The research reported here is the result of the first of a set of four inter-related experiments. Combinations of graphic variables were examined in an abstract setting using a speeded-classification task. Response data and accuracy data were used to provide an initial assessment of the levels of integrality, separability and configurality of several graphic combinations. Findings from this study will be integrated into subsequent map-using experiments, the results of which will assist cartographers in the design of complex map symbols.

Additional Information

Cartographic Perspectives, No. 32: 6-28.
Language: English
Date: 1999
Symbols, Maps, Readability, Visual search, Attention, Selective

Email this document to