The effect of graphic format, age, and gender on the interpretation of quantitative data

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The purpose of this study was to investigate the interpretation of numerical data when presented in four different graphic formats to different age groups and sexes. Fifth and sixth grade students (N=129) and eleventh and twelfth grade students (N=129) were assigned to four treatment groups. Each group viewed a different treatment slide with the same data displayed in one of four formats: table, line, Iine·tabIe, or bar. After a narrative introduction, the students, while viewing the treatment graph, were asked to answer three types of questions: specific amount, static, and dynamic comparison. The students were then asked to continue viewing the graph for one full minute. After the minute elapsed, the projector was turned off and the students were asked to answer questions concerning the data presented on the graph.

A 4 (Graph Type) X 2 (Age) X 2 (Gender) multivariate analysis of l variance (MANOVA) with repeated measures for the four types of questions was implemented to determine the relations among graph type, age, gender, and four types of questions. The independent variables were type of graph (between), age (between), gender (between), and type of question (within). The dependent variable was the interpretation of quantitative information as measured by the test questions.

The findings indicated that graphic format, age, and gender did affect the ability to interpret numerical data. The analysis demonstrated several statistically significant interaction effects: age and type of questions, graph and type of questions, and graph, age and type of questions. High-school students scored higher than elementary-school children on all four questions. Table graphs were effective for answering amount and static questions. As the questions became more complex, such as in a dynamic question, the table graph was one of the least effective means of graphic communication. For recall, the line-table format and line format were the most effective graphs. Age and gender differences emerged for particular graphs. Findings were discussed with regard to cognitive development implications.