Understanding Visual Risk Communication Messages: An Analysis of Visual Attention Allocation and Think Aloud Responses to Tornado Graphics

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  • 1 University at Albany, College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, Draper Hall 015, Albany, NY 12222, jsutton@albany.edu
  • 2 Texas Tech University, Agricutural Education and Communications, laura.fischer@ttu.edu
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Abstract

Online channels for communicating risk frequently include features and technological capabilities to support sharing images of risk. In particular, the affordances found in social media, such as Twitter, include the ability to attach maps, photos, videos, and other graphical information. The inclusion of visual cues such as colors, shapes, and their different sizes are important for making sense of approaching threats, populations at risk, the potential impacts, and ranges of associated uncertainty. The reception of and attention to these visual cues in messages about a potential threat, is the necessary first stage to making a decision about protective actions. Understanding what visual features capture individual attention and how attention is directed to visual images of risk on social media has the potential to affect the design of risk communication messages and the protective actions that follow. In this paper we use eye-tracking methods to identify where people allocate attention to a series of tweets, and qualitative think alouds to determine what features of the tweets people attend to in their visual field that are salient to message receivers. We investigate visual attention to a series of tweets that depict an emerging tornado threat to identify areas of visual interest and the properties of those visual cues that elicit attention. We find the use of color, properties of text presentation, and contents of messages affect attention allocation. These findings could help practitioners as they design and disseminate their weather messages to inform the public of emerging threats.

Abstract

Online channels for communicating risk frequently include features and technological capabilities to support sharing images of risk. In particular, the affordances found in social media, such as Twitter, include the ability to attach maps, photos, videos, and other graphical information. The inclusion of visual cues such as colors, shapes, and their different sizes are important for making sense of approaching threats, populations at risk, the potential impacts, and ranges of associated uncertainty. The reception of and attention to these visual cues in messages about a potential threat, is the necessary first stage to making a decision about protective actions. Understanding what visual features capture individual attention and how attention is directed to visual images of risk on social media has the potential to affect the design of risk communication messages and the protective actions that follow. In this paper we use eye-tracking methods to identify where people allocate attention to a series of tweets, and qualitative think alouds to determine what features of the tweets people attend to in their visual field that are salient to message receivers. We investigate visual attention to a series of tweets that depict an emerging tornado threat to identify areas of visual interest and the properties of those visual cues that elicit attention. We find the use of color, properties of text presentation, and contents of messages affect attention allocation. These findings could help practitioners as they design and disseminate their weather messages to inform the public of emerging threats.

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