New Publication: Color semantics in human cognition

New paper “Color semantics in human cognition,” was published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

AUthor: Karen B. Schloss


People have associations between colors and concepts that influence the way they interpret color meaning in information visualizations (e.g., charts, maps, diagrams). These associations are not limited to concrete objects (e.g., fruits, vegetables); even abstract concepts, like sleeping and driving, have systematic color-concept associations. However, color-concept associations and color meaning (color semantics) are not the same thing, and sometimes they conflict. This article describes an approach to understanding color semantics called the color inference framework. The framework shows how color semantics is highly flexible and context dependent, which makes color an effective medium for communication.

Reference: Schloss, K. B. (2024). Color semantics in human cognition. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 33, 1, 58-67. PDF


Dr. Melissa Schoenlein defended her dissertation!

Dr. Melissa Schoenlein defended her dissertation on Effects of color category structure on learning and generalization of color-concept associations for novel concepts. Now, Melissa is off to start a faculty position in Psychology at High Point University!

Congratulations Melissa! We are so incredibly proud of you and excited for you to start this next exciting step in your career!

Photo: Melissa Schoenlein and PhD Advisor Karen Schloss (front row); Dissertation Committee Members Haley Vlach, Tim Rogers, Jenny Saffran (back row)



Students presented their research at the 2024 Undergraduate Research Symposium

Students from the Schloss Visual Reasoning Lab presented their work at the 27th annual Undergraduate Symposium! The annual Undergraduate Symposium showcases undergraduate creativity, achievement, research, service-learning, and community-based research from all areas of study at UW–Madison including the humanities, arts, biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, and computer data and information sciences.

Left: Qaitlyn Ross and Rosa Jimenez presented their poster on Understanding the Design Space of Real-world Colormap Data Visualizations to Inform Intuitive Colormap Design. Qaitlyn and Rosa conducted this research as part of the Undergraduate Research Scholars program at UW-Madison.

Right: Melina Mueller presented her research on the Effect of Second-Order Conditioning on Category Extrapolation for Learning Novel Color-Concept Associations. Melina conducted this research for her senior honors thesis, supported by the Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship sponsored by the McPherson Eye Research Institute.

Melissa Schoenlein was awarded a 2023-2024 UW-Madison Capstone Teaching Award

Melissa Schoenlein was awarded a 2023-2024 UW-Madison Capstone Teaching Award for her course Psychology of Information Visualization (Spring 2023)! This award recognizes dissertators at the end of their graduate program with an outstanding teaching record over the course of their UW–Madison tenure.

Melissa’s students especially appreciated how she facilitated discussion in an open, inclusive class environment.  One student wrote, “Melissa’s passion for the material was salient. Yet, even when it was clear that she could go on about a topic for hours, she stepped back and let us drive the conversation with her guidance.” Another student commented, “Melissa did a great job of creating a space where people wanted to share their thoughts and opinions. There were rarely pauses because everyone actively wanted to share commentary.” Congratulations Melissa!

Melina Mueller Awarded a 2024 Psychology Department Undergraduate Travel Award

Melina Mueller received a UW–Madison Department of Psychology Spring Undergraduate Travel Award to present her research at the 2024 meeting of the Vision Sciences Society:

Effects of novel color categories on color-concept association generalization
By Melissa A. Schoenlein, Melina O. Mueller, and Karen B. Schloss

Zoe Howard Awarded a 2024 Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship

Congratulations to Zoe Howard for receiving a Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship! This fellowship provides research training and support for undergraduates to undertake their own research project in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. This award will support Zoe’s honors thesis project investigating the effects of texture enlargements on texture semantics for scaled data visualizations.

Graduate admissions for Fall 2024

Professor Karen Schloss will consider new graduate students for admission for Fall 2024. Prospective PhD students are encouraged to apply to the UW-Madison Psychology PhD program. Please click here for information about our program and how to apply. We look forward to reviewing your applications!

New Publication: More of what? Dissociating effects of conceptual and numeric mappings on interpreting colormap data visualizations

Our paper, “More of what? Dissociating effects of conceptual and numeric mappings on interpreting colormap data visualizations,” was published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.

AUthors: LEXI SOTO,  MELISSA A. SCHOENLEIN, and Karen B. Schloss

In visual communication, people glean insights about patterns of data by observing visual representations of datasets. Colormap data visualizations (“colormaps”) show patterns in datasets by mapping variations in color to variations in magnitude. When people interpret colormaps, they have expectations about how colors map to magnitude, and they are better at interpreting visualizations that align with those expectations. For example, they infer that darker colors map to larger quantities (dark-is-more bias) and colors that are higher on vertically oriented legends map to larger quantities (high-is-more bias). In previous studies, the notion of quantity was straightforward because more of the concept represented (conceptual magnitude) corresponded to larger numeric values (numeric magnitude). However, conceptual and numeric magnitude can conflict, such as using rank order to quantify health—smaller numbers correspond to greater health. Under conflicts, are inferred mappings formed based on the numeric level, the conceptual level, or a combination of both? We addressed this question across five experiments, spanning data domains: alien animals, antibiotic discovery, and public health. Across experiments, the high-is-more bias operated at the conceptual level: colormaps were easier to interpret when larger conceptual magnitude was represented higher on the legend, regardless of numeric magnitude. The dark-is-more bias tended to operate at the conceptual level, but numeric magnitude could interfere, or even dominate, if conceptual magnitude was less salient. These results elucidate factors influencing meanings inferred from visual features and emphasize the need to consider data meaning, not just numbers, when designing visualizations aimed to facilitate visual communication.

Reference: Soto, L., Schoenlein, M. A., & Schloss, K. B. (2023). More of what? Dissociating effects of conceptual and numeric mappings on interpreting colormap data visualizations. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 8, 38, 1-17. PDF