Macrocognition in Complex Sociotechnical Settings

This research thrust focuses on the users of visual interfaces and how to support their macrocognitive activities. Here macrocognition refers to high-level cognitive processes and functions—e.g., sensemaking, decision making, problem solving—that typically take place in complex settings involving uncertainty, dynamism, and risk. Macrocognition can be contrasted with microcognition, which refers to the lower-level phenomena like attention, perception, and memory.

Our early work in this area investigated the effects of design decisions and strategies on user cognition, with the human-computer system as the primary unit of analysis. For instance, we have written about general effects of visualization types on user cognition, how different forms of interactivity influence learning with geometric visualizations, how conceptual metaphors may serve as foundational mechanisms for visual reasoning, and how users’ sense of engagement with visualizations can be influenced through visual and interactive design decisions. We have developed conceptual models of the human-computer system for visualization tools, with the aim of helping researchers and designers think through the various concerns needed for dealing with macrocognitive activities with visualization tools. This work was supported by a grant from NSF (Understanding Cognitive Potentials of Interactive Visualizations; 3/15/2018-8/31/2021).

The missing piece in this early work was the role of the environment in shaping the cognitive activities that people do in complex settings. In all but simple settings, the environment imposes constraints and demands on users that fundamentally shape the way their work is done. We have been working with a group of colleagues from multiple universities on a NASA-funded project (Resilient Extraterrestrial Habitats Institute; 8/1/2019-8/31/2024) to investigate how to build habitats for people beyond low earth orbit. Our role on the project is to support core macrocognitive processes (e.g., situation awareness, decision making) in smart semi-autonomous habitats, especially through the use of interactive visualization interfaces.

This kind of work often involves involves deep engagement with domain experts to understand the nature of their cognitive work and how it is carried out within a complex sociotechnical setting. We have used the International Space Station as an analog to any future space habitat, with the goal of understanding what goes into flying the station and responding when anomalies occur. We have worked with experts in ISS mission control, using several knowledge elicitation techniques to uncover their cognitive strategies, tacit knowledge, and adaptations to understand what makes their work challenging and how their expertise meets those challenges. We have used this opportunity to think about how data collected from participants can be combined with theories of human behavior to play a generative role in design. Leveraging insights from primary data collection that can serve a generative role in design is a perennial challenge, especially when the envisioned world in which the artifacts and systems will operate does not yet exist.

Related Publications

2023

Zhang, Zixu; Parsons, Paul

Designing Visual Displays for Deep Space Habitats: Challenges and Opportunities from a Cognitive Task Analysis with ISS Conference

Proceedings of the 67th Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 2023.

Links | BibTeX

2022

Parsons, Paul; Zhang, Zixu

Visual Communication of Potential Anomalies with Boundary Lines in ISS Mission Control Workshop

IEEE VIS Workshop on Visualization for Communication (VisComm ’22), Late-Breaking Work, 2022.

Links | BibTeX

Parsons, Paul; Zhang, Zixu; Murray, Jackson

Adaptive Performance: A Generative Theory for HCI Design in Extraterrestrial Habitats Workshop

SpaceCHI 2.0: Advancing Human-Computer Interaction for Space Exploration. A Workshop at ACM CHI 2022, 2022.

Links | BibTeX

2018

Parsons, Paul

Promoting Representational Fluency for Cognitive Bias Mitigation in Information Visualization Book Section

In: Ellis, Geoffrey (Ed.): Cognitive Biases in Visualizations, pp. 137–147, Springer International Publishing, Cham, 2018, ISBN: 978-3-319-95830-9 978-3-319-95831-6.

Links | BibTeX

Parsons, Paul

Conceptual Metaphor Theory as a Foundation for Communicative Visualization Design Conference

IEEE VIS Workshop on Visualization for Communication (VisComm), Berlin, Germany, 2018.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

Baigelenov, Ali; Parsons, Paul

Interactivity Factors in Visualization-Based Exploratory Search Conference

Extended Abstracts of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI LBW), CHI EA '18 ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-4503-5621-3.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

2017

Saenz, Michael; Baigelenov, Ali; Hung, Ya-Hsin; Parsons, Paul

Reexamining the cognitive utility of 3D visualizations using augmented reality holograms Proceedings Article

In: IEEE VIS Workshop on Immersive Analytics, pp. 5, Phoenix, AZ, 2017.

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Baigelenov, Ali; Saenz, Michael; Hung, Ya-Hsin; Parsons, Paul

Toward an Understanding of Observational Advantages in Information Visualization Conference

IEEE VIS '17: Proceedings of the 2017 IEEE Conference on Information Visualization, Poster Abstracts, Phoenix, AZ, 2017.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

Hung, Ya-Hsin; Parsons, Paul

Evaluating User Engagement in Information Visualization Using Mixed Methods Proceedings Article

In: IEEE VIS '17: Proceedings of the 2017 IEEE Conference on Information Visualization, Poster Abstracts, pp. 2, Phoenix, AZ, 2017.

Abstract | BibTeX

Hung, Ya-Hsin; Parsons, Paul

Assessing User Engagement in Information Visualization Proceedings Article

In: Extended Abstracts of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI LBW), pp. 1708–1717, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2017, ISBN: 978-1-4503-4656-6.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

2016

Sedig, Kamran; Parsons, Paul; Liang, Hai-Ning; Morey, Jim

Supporting Sensemaking of Complex Objects with Visualizations: Visibility and Complementarity of Interactions Journal Article

In: Informatics, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 20, 2016.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

2014

Sedig, Kamran; Parsons, Paul; Dittmer, Mark; Haworth, Robert

Human-centered interactivity of visualization tools: Micro- and macro-level considerations Book Chapter

In: Huang, Weidong (Ed.): Handbook of Human-Centric Visualization, pp. 717–743, Springer, New York, 2014.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

Parsons, Paul; Sedig, Kamran

Distribution of Information Processing while Performing Complex Cognitive Activities with Visualization Tools Book Chapter

In: Huang, Weidong (Ed.): Handbook of Human-Centric Visualization, pp. 693–715, Springer, New York, 2014.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

Parsons, Paul; Sedig, Kamran

Common visualizations: Their cognitive utility Book Chapter

In: Huang, Weidong (Ed.): Handbook of Human-Centric Visualization, pp. 671–691, Springer, New York, 2014.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

Parsons, Paul; Sedig, Kamran

Adjustable properties of visual representations: Improving the quality of human-information interaction Journal Article

In: Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, vol. 65, no. 3, pp. 455–482, 2014, ISSN: 23301635, (arXiv: 0803.1716 ISBN: 978-0-88986-920-2).

Abstract | Links | BibTeX

2013

Sedig, Kamran; Parsons, Paul

Interaction Design for Complex Cognitive Activities with Visual Representations: A Pattern-Based Approach Journal Article

In: AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 84–133, 2013.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX