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How Locus of Control Influences Compatibility with Visualization Style

Caroline Ziemkiewicz
R. Jordan Crouser
Sara L. Su
Ashley Rye Yauilla
William Ribarsky
Remco Chang
Proceedings of IEEE Conference on Visual Analytics Science and Technology (VAST) (2011)


Existing research suggests that individual personality differences are correlated with a user’s speed and accuracy in solving problems with different types of complex visualization systems. In this paper, we extend this research by isolating factors in personality traits as well as in the visualizations that could have contributed to the observed correlation. We focus on a personality trait known as “locus of control,” which represents a person’s tendency to see themselves as controlled by or in control of external events. To isolate variables of the visualization design, we control extraneous factors such as color, interaction, and labeling, and specifically focus on the overall layout style of the visualizations. We conduct a user study with four visualizations that gradually shift from an indentation metaphor to a containment metaphor and compare the participants’ speed, accuracy, and preference with their locus of control. Our findings demonstrate that there is indeed a correlation between the two: participants with an internal locus of control perform more poorly with visualizations that employ a containment metaphor, while those with an external locus of control perform well with such visualizations. We discuss a possible explanation for this relationship based in cognitive psychology and propose that these results can be used to better understand how people use visualizations and how to adapt visual analytics design to an individual user’s needs.