|Abstract or Summary
- This study aims to examine how people read and interpret scientific information, and how they respond to graphs and other data. It can be more broadly applied to help patients better understand information and statistics about certain disease conditions, such as cancer risk and diabetes treatment plans. One approach to undergraduate and patient education is to reduce the literacy level and cognitive load overall. For example, graphs and words are removed in favor of photographs and short sentences. However, Richard Mayer and colleagues (e.g. Mayer & Moreno, 2003) make a crucial distinction between essential and non-essential cognitive load. When discussing complex ideas, it is impossible to reduce words and graphs to a low level without removing essential content. In these situations, it is possible to help students and patients understand the essential, complex information through signaling key information, segmenting information into smaller chunks, and providing information through two channels (e.g. auditory and visual). In this study, we designed information about a study to reduce cognitive load using these three techniques. Participants were presented with a graph depicting information about breast and ovarian cancer risk over time for those with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Additional verbal information about the graph was presented either in written form (a paragraph next to the graph) or auditory form (Powerpoint voiceover). Participants were randomly assigned to a reduced cognitive load condition or a non-reduced cognitive load condition and were asked to interpret the information on risk by answering several multiple choice questions. There was ultimately no significant differences between the two conditions on scientific literacy, and there are several possible reasons why. It’s possible that the quiz given to the participants was too easy, so the reduction in cognitive load was not necessary to choose the correct answer. Additionally, the summary slide at the end provided both groups with essentially the same information, and this may be all they used to answer the questions. Feedback and insight on how to improve this study can help improve its efficacy.