The effects of visual complexity on cognitive load as influenced by field dependency and spatial ability
Christopher Gene Allen, New York University, United States
New York University . Awarded
The goal of the present research was to investigate the effects of visual complexity on cognitive load and learning outcomes. Cognitive Load Theory and the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning provide evidence that removing extraneous information from an image will result in greater cognitive resources available for learning. Participants were recruited from a small Catholic liberal arts college in northern New Jersey and ranged in age from 18 to 72. To measure prior knowledge, participants completed two questions. The first question asked participants to rate their expertise on glassblowing from "Novice" to "Expert" while the second question was a series of five statements that gradually became more complex. For the treatment, participants completed a computer-mediated instruction on the process of glassblowing. Each participant received only one condition of High (photographic), Medium (cartoon), or Low (line drawing) visual complexity. Concurrent to the treatment, cognitive load was measured using the participants' reaction times on a secondary task. To assess the effects of the treatment condition, participants completed an 18 item learning outcome assessment. In addition to the treatment condition, participants completed the Card Rotation Test as a measure of spatial ability and the Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT) as a measure of field dependency. These measures were used as covariates in the analysis. To determine if the treatment altered participants' perception of glassblowing, individuals responded to a pre and post question asking them to rate their interest on the topic. Analysis of Covariance revealed a significant main effect for the treatment condition as the Independent Variable, cognitive load as the Dependent Variable, and field dependency as a covariate. An Analysis of Covariance also revealed a significant main effect for the treatment condition as the Independent Variable, the learning outcome as the Dependent Variable, and field dependency as the covariate. These results are consistent with the tenets of Cognitive Load Theory and the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning and suggest that removing extraneous visual information does impact the level of cognitive load and can, potentially, improve learner efficacy.
Allen, C.G. The effects of visual complexity on cognitive load as influenced by field dependency and spatial ability. Ph.D. thesis, New York University.
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