Public understanding of visual representations of uncertainty in temperature forecasts

Susanne Tak, Alexander Toet, Johannes Bernardus Fransiscus van Erp

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    17 Citations (Scopus)


    Multiday weather forecasts often include graphical representations of uncertainty. However, visual representations of probabilistic events are often misinterpreted by the general public. Although various uncertainty visualizations are now in use, the parameters that determine their successful deployment are still unknown. At the same time, a correct understanding of possible weather forecast outcomes will enable the public to make better decisions and will increase their trust in these predictions. We investigated the effects of the visual form and width of temperature forecast visualizations with uncertainty on estimates of the probability that the temperature could exceed a given value. The results suggest that people apply an internal model of the uncertainty distribution that closely resembles a normal distribution, which confirms previous findings. Also, the visualization type appears to affect the applied internal model, in particular the probability estimates of values outside the depicted uncertainty range. Furthermore, we find that perceived uncertainty does not necessarily map linearly to visual features, as identical relative positions to the range are being judged differently depending on the width of the uncertainty range. Finally, the internal model of the uncertainty distribution is related to participants’ numeracy. We include some implications for makers or designers of uncertainty visualizations.
    Original languageUndefined
    Pages (from-to)241-262
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of cognitive engineering and decision making
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015


    • EWI-26741
    • METIS-315556
    • IR-99372

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