Recruiting graduate students for Fall 2023

The Schloss Visual Reasoning Lab is recruiting qualified graduate students to start in Fall 2023 in the Department of Psychology and Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison!

If you are interested in joining the lab as a PhD student, please send Karen Schloss an introductory email that outlines your research interests and explains why our lab would be a good place to pursue those interests. Please also include your current academic CV in your email.

Before reaching out to us, please familiarize yourself with the lab’s current research. We suggest reading the following two papers, which will give you a sense of the ongoing work in the lab and the kind of research you may do if you join our group: 

(1) Unifying effects of direct and relational associations for visual communication

(2) Context matters: A theory of semantic discriminability for perceptual encoding systems

We look forward to hearing from you!

PI Karen Schloss was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure

PI Karen Schloss has been promoted to Associate professor with tenure!

She is extremely grateful to her students, collaborators, mentors, colleagues, friends, family, and the staff in Psychology and WID for their support in the process.

Go Badgers!


New Publication: Color-concept association formation for novel concepts

Our new paper, “Color-concept association formation for novel concepts,” was published in Visual Cognition.

AUthors: Melissa A. Schoenlein and Karen B. Schloss


Color-concept associations influence fundamental processes in cognition and perception, including object recognition, color perception, and visual reasoning. To fully understand these effects, it is necessary to understand how color-concept associations are formed. It is assumed that color-concept associations are learned through experiences in the world, but questions remain concerning how association formation is influenced by properties of the input and cognitive factors during input. We addressed these questions by first exposing participants to color-concept co-occurrences for novel concepts (“Filk” and “Slub” alien species) using a category learning task. We then assessed color-concept associations using an association rating task. During alien species category learning, color was a noisy cue and shape was 100% diagnostic of species category membership, so participants could have ignored color to complete the task. Nonetheless, participants learned systematic color-concept associations for “seen” colors during alien category learning and generalized to “unseen” colors as a function of color distance from the seen colors (Experiment 1). Association formation not only depended on color-alien co-occurrences during the alien category learning task, but also depended on cognitive structure of color categories (e.g., degree to which an observed red color is typical of the color category “red”) (Experiment 2). Thus, environmental and cognitive factors combine to influence color-concept associations formed from experiences in the world.

Reference: Schoenlein, M. A. & Schloss, K. B. (2022). Color-concept association formation for novel concepts. Visual Cognition. PDF

New Publication: A holey perspective on Venn diagrams

Our new paper, “A holey perspective on Venn diagrams,” was published in Cognitive Science.

Authors: Anna N. Bartel, Kevin J. Lande,  Joris Roos, and Karen B. Schloss

When interpreting the meanings of visual features in information visualizations, observers have expectations about how visual features map onto concepts (“inferred mappings”). In this study we examined whether aspects of inferred mappings, previously identified for other types of visualizations (e.g., colormap data visualizations), generalize to a different type of visualization, Venn diagrams. Venn diagrams offer an interesting test case because empirical evidence about the nature of inferred mappings for colormaps suggests that established conventions for Venn diagrams are counterintuitive. Venn diagrams represent classes using overlapping circles and express logical relationships between those classes by shading out regions to encode the concept of non-existence, or none. We propose that people do not simply expect shading to signify non-existence, but rather they expect regions that appear as holes to signify non-existence (the “hole hypothesis”). The appearance of a hole depends on perceptual properties in the diagram in relation to its background. Across three experiments, results supported the hole hypothesis, underscoring the importance of configural processing for interpreting the meanings of visual features in information visualizations.

Reference: Bartel, A. N., Lande, K. J., Roos, J., & Schloss, K. B. (2021). A holey perspective on Venn diagrams. Cognitive Science, 46, 1, e13073. PDF



Dr. Anna Bartel graduated with her PhD in Psychology

Dr. Anna Bartel graduated with her PhD from the UW-Madison Department of Psychology!

We were honored to have Anna as a member of the lab, and we wish her all the best in her next steps as an Efficacy and Impact Researcher on the Learning and Technology team at WestEd!

Congratulations Anna!

Kelsey Campbell awarded Outstanding Undergraduate Research Scholar Award

Kelsey Campbell was awarded the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Scholar Award from the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This award recognizes outstanding undergraduate Psychology majors for their contribution to research in our department. We thank Kelsey for her outstanding work in our lab!

Congratulations Kelsey, and best of luck with your graduate studies!

Melissa Schoenlein awarded 2022 Elsevier/Vision Research Travel Award

Melissa SchoenleinMelissa Schoenlein received a 2022 Elsevier/Vision Research Travel Award to present her work at the Annual Meeting of the Vision Sciences Society.

Talk title: “Color category boundaries predict generalization of color-concept associations”

Congratulations Melissa!

Clementine Zimnicki awarded Kenzi Valentyn Vision Research Grant

Clementine Zimnicki was awarded a Kenzi Valentyn Vision Research Grant from the McPherson Eye Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Her project is on understanding factors that influence people’s interpretations of colormap data visualizations. Congrats Clementine!

IEEE VIS 2021 Honorable Mention for Best Paper

Our paper “Context matters: A theory of semantic discriminability for perceptual encoding systems” received Honorable Mention for best paper at IEEE VIS 20211!

This paper presents semantic discriminability theory, a new theory on constraints for generating semantically discriminable perceptual features for encoding systems that map perceptual features to concepts. We provided evidence supporting two hypotheses that arise from the theory. First, the capacity to create semantically discriminable color palettes for a set of concepts depends on the difference in color-concept association distributions between those concepts, independent of properties of the concepts alone. Second, people can accurately interpret mappings between colors and concepts for concepts previously considered “non-colorable,” to the extent that the colors are semantically discriminable. Although we focused on color in this study,  the theory has potential to extend to other types of visual features (e.g., shape, orientation, visual texture) and features in other  perceptual modalities (e.g., sound, odor, touch).

Reference: Mukherjee, K., Yin, B., Sherman, B. E., Lessard, L. & Schloss, K. B. Context matters: A theory of semantic discriminability for perceptual encoding systems. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics.  PDF

Virtual Brain Demos Coming Soon!

VSS 2022 demo night lessons, including the Desktop versions and the touch system, are coming soon! Stay tuned!