The effect of cognitive load on decision making with graphically displayed uncertainty information

Pamela M. Allen, John A. Edwards, Frank J. Snyder, Kevin A. Makinson, David M. Hamby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


An experiment examined the ability of five graphical displays to communicate uncertainty information when end users were under cognitive load (i.e., remembering an eight-digit number). The extent to which people could accurately derive information from the graphs and the adequacy of decisions about optimal behaviors based on the graphs were assessed across eight scenarios in which probabilistic outcomes were described. Results indicated that the load manipulation did not have an overall effect on derivation of information from the graphs (i.e., mean and probability estimation) but did suppress the ability to optimize behavioral choices based on the graph. Cognitive load affected people's use of some graphical displays (basic probability distribution function) more than others. Overall, the research suggests that interpreting basic characteristics of uncertainty data is unharmed under conditions of limited cognitive resources, whereas more deliberative processing is negatively affected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1495-1505
Number of pages11
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive busyness
  • decision making
  • graphical communication
  • probability
  • uncertainty


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