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Eye Power: The Visual Advantage

by Dundas Data Visualization Inc. Wednesday, March 07, 2012

You remember the face...maybe even what the person was wearing...
...but the name completely escapes you.

If this has happened to you after you've met someone new, you are far from alone. That's because most people learn and retain information better visually rather than by reading or listening. The academic research overwhelmingly affirms the fact that seeing is not only believing, it's also knowing.

For example, New York University psychologist Jerome Bruner states from his studies that people only remember 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they read - but a commanding 80% of what they see. The U.S. Government also states that information from a meeting is retained six times as much if there is a visual component to the presentation of material.

How to account for this visual advantage? Well, it all starts with how visual information gets into our brains - through our eyes, because it turns out that they are pretty powerful organs. In 2006, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine undertook a study of just how fast an eye can process information; what it's actual "bandwidth" was. The conclusion? The human retina can transmit visual input at roughly the same speed as a quality Ethernet internet network, about 10 megabytes a second - making it the ultimate organic high-speed connection.

Add into the mix the fact that all of us possess different "intelligences," according to famed Harvard developmental psychologist, Dr. Howard Gardner, the father of the multiple intelligence theory. According to his studies, there are actually eight different kinds of intelligences: bodily‐kinesthetic, interpersonal, verbal‐linguistic, logical‐mathematical, naturalistic, intrapersonal, visual‐spatial and musical. Whichever type of intelligence a person possesses also determines how he or she best learns new information.

Research indicates that visual-spatial intelligence is the most dominant type of the eight categories listed above. Dr. Laura Silverman, a researcher with the Gifted Child Development Center, determined that more than 60% of students learned best visually.

As you might imagine, visual-spatial individuals learn through what they see - and prefer a pictorial representation of facts and data. Some traits of visual learners include:

  • Recalling colors, printed names and visual details
  • Remembering faces, but not spoken names
  • Thinking in mental pictures
  • Experience difficulty with following long lectures or oral presentations
  • Ability to recall information location on a page or in a book

In general, visual learning is becoming more and more the norm in the modern world no matter what type of intelligence a person might possess, as society in general is accelerating towards more visual interfaces. According to a report from the National Education Association,”Western civilization has become more dependent than ever on visual culture, visual artifacts, and visual communication as a mode of discourse and a means of developing a social and cultural identity.” And visual learning specialist Stuart J. Murphy describes today's “digital native” in this manner; "comfortable online, well‐versed in video games, eager consumers of graphic novels, young adults have become naturally reliant on the language of visuals to transmit and convey information.”

This visual movement has reached across to the business world, where business dashboards have exploded in popularity over recent years. Dashboards provide a visual snapshot of a company's crucial operational data, providing quick analysis that makes it easier to spot trends, outliers and patterns. And because the data is visual, it’s also memorable. That's why more and more businesses are using dashboards - their users see the ongoing benefits that dashboards bring to their jobs and ask for more of them. The adaptability to mobile platforms has also been a big plus, giving company personnel easy access to dashboards on laptops, tablets and even Smartphones while they're at home, in the field or on the road.

Most people know the saying, "Out of sight, out of mind" has validity. Well, its opposite is just as true - when something is in sight, it's almost certain it's made its way into in your mind. Whether it's at work, at school, or in our everyday lives, visual learning helps us all retain more knowledge more quickly.

When we are able to put our own personal "eye power" to work, we can literally "see" the difference. So, the next time you've got to communicate important information to someone, remember it's a much better idea to show it rather than say it.

Dundas Data Visualization has been a leader in the data visualization space since 1992. Well known for their component product line, prominent in the first decade of the 2000s, they have more recently released a powerful platform for creating highly customized dashboards - Dundas Dashboard. To learn more about Dundas visit their site www.dundas.com.

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