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Information Visualization: Does the Brain Seek and Use Written Information Differently Based on Its Visual Structure?

Hologram of a brain appearing between man's hands


Due to the emergence of intelligent technology and the internet, it is more evident that humans seek and process information by primarily accessing the visual cortex of our brains first before processing the language, even when we are looking at written information.

The human brain did not evolve to naturally know how to read and write, so we use many other visual cues to assist us with absorbing textual information. If we can understand how human vision facilitates information seeking behaviours, we can more effectively improve the methods of textual communication (Johnson, 2014).

Reading is Unnatural

Reading is not an innate ability, but rather it is an artificial skill that requires systematic instructions and practice to learn, improve, and maintain (Sousa, 2005).

The only part of our visual system trained to recognize patterns for reading are the fovea, the perifovea, and the neural networks from the optic nerve to the visual cortex and various parts of the brain (Johnson, 2014).

The brain processes textual information visually first, and then transfer the nonvisual association structures for processing (Paivo, 1987).

Seeking Visual Structure

Human vision and perception has evolved to see and seek structure. The human brain uses visual features to scan and extract information quickly and easily (Johnson, 2014).

Perception can be influenced by experience, context, and goals. Information developers intentionally use strong preattentive visual cues based on principles of perception and assumed biases to prioritize information (Larson, 2004; Kister, 2020; Gigerenzer & Brighton, 2009; Ware, 2012).

Processing and Responding

Seeing is a series of repeating cognitive processes that constructs the eye movement control loop, which consists of eye movements, information extraction, perception, interpretation, and planning the next eye movement (Johnson, 2014). To prepare for the next eye movement, the primary visual cortex employs a heuristic strategy by focusing on the next visually strong target.

Information developers must consider information structures and the resulting cognitive responses to assist the brain in processing the eye movement control loop (Koffka, 1935; Johnson, 2014).

Reducing Cognitive Load

Visual thinking algorithms are executed as part of our perception, visual working memory, and long-term memory (Ware, 2012). When the cognitive load increases, the useful field of view is decreased. When the cognitive load is reduced, the brain is uninterrupted and primed to make the next eye movement to seek relevant information.


Scientific evidence and ongoing research supports the hypothesis that our information seeking behaviours are influenced by the visual structure of the information. Because reading is unnatural, we seek for visual cues based on our perception. Our perception determine the cognitive processes to help extract relevant information with the minimal cognitive load.

It is important to further investigate different information types, their respective information structures, and their intended user responses to provide content creators the opportunity to communicate effectively to their audience and end users. We need to understand what and where information structures require improvement to minimize cognitive load and promote efficient information seeking behaviours.


Gigerenzer, G., & Brighton, H. (2009). Homo Heuristicus: Why Biased Minds Make Better Inferences. TOPICS: Topics in Cognitive Science,1(1), 107-143.

Johnson, J. (2014). Designing with the mind in mind simple: Simple guide to understanding user interface design guidelines. Burlington, MA: Elsevier, Morgan Kaufmann is an imprint of Elsevier.

Kister, T. M. (2020, November 17). Neuroscience of Information Development [Telephone interview].

Koffka, K. (1935). Principles of gestalt psychology. London, UK: Routledge.

Larson, K. (2004). The Science of Word Recognition. Advanced Reading Technology, 1-14. Retrieved from

Lindsay, P. H., & Norman, D. A. (1977). Human Information Processing. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.

Paivio, A. (1987). Mental representations: A dual coding approach. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Sousa, D. A. (2005). How the brain learns to read. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.

Stanovich, K., Dr. (2005). Dr. Keith Stanovich – Cognitive Science: The Conceptual Components of Reading & What Reading Does for the Mind [Interview by 1116166453 843143034 D. Boulton]. Retrieved from

Ware, C. (2012). Information Visualization: Perception for Design. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann.

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