Mental Models in Visualization


Mental models denote our internal understanding of how something works. These mental models allow us to reason about systems or devices such as automobiles, ATMs, or visualization applications. For example, we construct a certain representative explanatory description in our mind about how e.g. a car works. This mental model might not resemble how the internals of a car actually work but are as simple as possible and as complex as necessary to explain certain characteristics and relationships.

Mental models do also play an important role for visualization systems, i.e., to be able to understand and interact with them (graph comprehension) as well as gaining insights about the data.


The goal of this work is to conduct a structured state-of-the-art overview of research work devoted to the topic of mental models in visualization.

Other information

Starting points for research:

Zhicheng Liu; Stasko, J.T.; , Mental Models, Visual Reasoning and Interaction in Information Visualization: A Top-down Perspective, IEEE TVCG, 16(6):999-1008, 2010.

Mayr, E., Schreder, G., Smuc, M., & Windhager, F. (2016). Looking at the Representations in Our Mind: Measuring Mental Models of Information Visualizations. Proceedings of the Beyond Time and Errors on Novel Evaluation Methods for Visualization, 96–103.


Further information

Mental Models, Visualization Literacy, Graph Comprehension, Cognitive Science
Information Visualization (IV)
Visual Analytics (VA)