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Cogn Sci. 2006 May 6;30(3):581-92. doi: 10.1207/s15516709cog0000_70.

Arrows in comprehending and producing mechanical diagrams.

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Department of Psychology, Stanford University2.


Mechanical systems have structural organizations-parts, and their relations-and functional organizations-temporal, dynamic, and causal processes-which can be explained using text or diagrams. Two experiments illustrate the role of arrows in diagrams of mechanical systems. In Experiment 1, people described diagrams with or without arrows, interpreting diagrams without arrows as conveying structural information and diagrams with arrows as conveying functional information. In Experiment 2, people produced sketches of mechanical systems from structural or functional descriptions. People spontaneously used arrows to indicate functional processes in diagrams. Arrows can play a powerful role in augmenting structural diagrams to convey dynamic, causal, or functional information.

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