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Information Visualization for Decision Making : Identifying Biases and Moving Beyond the Visual Analysis Paradigm

Abstract : There are problems neither humans nor computers can solve alone. Computer-supported visualizations are a well-known solution when humans need to reason based on a large amount of data. The more effective a visualization, the more complex the problems that can be solved. In information visualization research, to be considered effective, a visualization typically needs to support data comprehension. Evaluation methods focus on whether users indeed understand the displayed data, can gain insights and are able to perform a set of analytic tasks, e.g., to identify if two variables are correlated. This dissertation suggests moving beyond this "visual analysis paradigm" by extending research focus to another type of task: decision making. Decision tasks are essential to everybody, from the manager of a company who needs to routinely make risky decisions to an ordinary person who wants to choose a career life path or simply find a camera to buy. Yet decisions do not merely involve information understanding and are difficult to study. Decision tasks can involve subjective preferences, do not always have a clear ground truth, and they often depend on external knowledge which may not be part of the displayed dataset. Nevertheless, decision tasks are neither part of visualization task taxonomies nor formally defined. Moreover, visualization research lacks metrics, methodologies and empirical works that validate the effectiveness of visualizations in supporting a decision. This dissertation provides an operational definition for a particular class of decision tasks and reports a systematic analysis to investigate the extent to which existing multidimensional visualizations are compatible with such tasks. It further reports on the first empirical comparison of multidimensional visualizations for their ability to support decisions and outlines a methodology and metrics to assess decision accuracy. It further explores the role of instructions in both decision tasks and equivalent analytic tasks, and identifies differences in accuracy between those tasks. Similarly to vision science that informs visualization researchers and practitioners on the limitations of human vision, moving beyond the visual analysis paradigm would mean acknowledging the limitations of human reasoning. This dissertation reviews decision theory to understand how humans should, could and do make decisions and formulates a new taxonomy of cognitive biases based on the user task where such biases occur. It further empirically shows that cognitive biases can be present even when information is well-visualized, and that a decision can be ``correct'' yet irrational, in the sense that people's decisions are influenced by irrelevant information. This dissertation finally examines how biases can be alleviated. Current methods for improving human reasoning often involve extensive training on abstract principles and procedures that often appear ineffective. Yet visualizations have an ace up their sleeve: visualization designers can re-design the environment to alter the way people process the data. This dissertation revisits decision theory to identify possible design solutions. It further empirically demonstrates that enriching a visualization with interactions that facilitate alternative decision strategies can yield more rational decisions. Through empirical studies, this dissertation suggests that the visual analysis paradigm cannot fully address the challenges of visualization-supported decision making, but that moving beyond can contribute to making visualization a powerful decision support tool.
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Submitted on : Monday, January 7, 2019 - 12:57:39 PM
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Evanthia Dimara. Information Visualization for Decision Making : Identifying Biases and Moving Beyond the Visual Analysis Paradigm. Human-Computer Interaction [cs.HC]. Université Paris-Saclay, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017SACLS367⟩. ⟨tel-01968033v2⟩

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