Illustration of a person holding a newspaper and using a magnifying glass to look at a graph

Seeing a way toward better health decisions

Visual aids generally help people grasp science concepts, but research suggests many struggle with translating data from charts and graphs into personal health decisions. Such concerns take on added importance with so much COVID-19 data being presented graphically in the media.

Min Sook Park
Min Sook Park

Min Sook Park, an assistant professor in the School of Information Studies, is researching this issue with a team of scientists from other universities. They’re investigating whether the public understands these COVID-19 data representations and whether their level of understanding influences perceptions of the pandemic’s severity.

The insights will go beyond mitigating COVID-19. “This will help citizens be better prepared for other, similar health issues,” Park says.

As part of the project, Park and her colleagues will publish advice and suggestions on improving data representations to a website, which will be available to educators and media outlets. Plans call for incorporating the improved data display approaches into undergraduate STEM courses to increase scientific and mathematical literacy.

Researchers will interview a wide range of participants and develop models of their understanding of key concepts. Then they’ll develop research-based modifications to graphics and evaluate how the changes boost understanding.

They’ve already found evidence that building animation into still graphs makes it easier for people to digest them.

The team, backed by funding from the National Science Foundation, includes members from the University of Georgia and Arizona State University.