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J Exp Psychol Gen. 1989 Dec;118(4):387-98.

Perceptual and conceptual factors in distortions in memory for graphs and maps.

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Department of Psychology, Stanford University, California 94305.


We propose that representations of visual stimuli are a consequence of both perceptual and conceptual factors that may be revealed in systematic errors in memory. Three experiments demonstrated increased (horizontal or vertical) symmetry in perception and memory of nearly symmetric curves in graphs and rivers in maps. Next, a conceptual factor, an accompanying description biasing toward symmetry or asymmetry, also distorted memory in the expected direction for the symmetric descriptions. In the two final experiments, we investigated conceptual factors in selection of a frame of reference. Subjects remembered lines in graphs, but not in maps, as closer to the imaginary 45 degrees line. Combined with earlier research, this suggests that the reference frame for map lines is the canonical axes and for graph lines, the imaginary 45 degrees line.

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