Using Eye Tracking to Investigate Semantic and Spatial Representations of Scientific Diagrams During Text-Diagram Integration

Yu Cin Jian, Chao Jung Wu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated strategies used by readers when reading a science article with a diagram and assessed whether semantic and spatial representations were constructed while reading the diagram. Seventy-one undergraduate participants read a scientific article while tracking their eye movements and then completed a reading comprehension test. Our results showed that the text-diagram referencing strategy was commonly used. However, some readers adopted other reading strategies, such as reading the diagram or text first. We found all readers who had referred to the diagram spent roughly the same amount of time reading and performed equally well. However, some participants who ignored the diagram performed more poorly on questions that tested understanding of basic facts. This result indicates that dual coding theory may be a possible theory to explain the phenomenon. Eye movement patterns indicated that at least some readers had extracted semantic information of the scientific terms when first looking at the diagram. Readers who read the scientific terms on the diagram first tended to spend less time looking at the same terms in the text, which they read after. Besides, presented clear diagrams can help readers process both semantic and spatial information, thereby facilitating an overall understanding of the article. In addition, although text-first and diagram-first readers spent similar total reading time on the text and diagram parts of the article, respectively, text-first readers had significantly less number of saccades of text and diagram than diagram-first readers. This result might be explained as text-directed reading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-55
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Science Education and Technology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Feb


  • Eye movement
  • Scientific diagrams
  • Semantic representation
  • Spatial representation
  • Text-diagram reading strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Engineering


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