Visual data is more effective for readers who are already feeling a positive emotion, according to recently published research from Ph.D. student Lane Harrison. In a blog for the Harvard Business Review “Don’t Read Infographics When You’re Feeling Anxious,” Nicholas Diakopoulos describes the correlation between a reader’s emotions and comprehension of the visual data. Diakopoulos explains that if a reader is already in a good mood, they will comprehend more of the visual data versus if they were feeling anxious.

Lane Harrison and collaborators focuses on the understanding of affect and brain processing in terms of data visualization. According to the blog post, “Their results experimentally show that people who were positively primed – put in a good mood by reading a lighthearted news article – made less visual judgment errors across a range of different charts than people who were negatively primed.”

Diakopoulos also suggests less invasive ways to put users in a positive frame of mind, such as making the interface more aesthetically pleasing by changing the lighting or color in the user’s environment. He also explains there are several challenges when using this approach – such as when and how to provoke the emotion. Diakopoulos said that as the research in this area continues the practices will be improved. According to his article, “These questions will get sorted out as the research in this area improves, but what we do know is that whether the end-users of your company’s data visualizations are customers, the public, or a group of internal analysts, it might just be worthwhile to keep those users in a cheerful mood.”

For Nicholas Diakopoulos’ full article Don’t Read Infographics When You’re Feeling Anxious,” go to the Harvard Business Review’s blog network.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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