The use of data visualization is increasing; however, there is little empirical explanation for how it supports users. Our goal in this paper is to deepen our understanding of the role of interactive visualizations in a particular context of decision making. Specifically, we attempt to understand the role of the working memory system, which is a concept to understand the mechanism of the processing and temporary storage of information in variety of cognitive tasks. We compared two interfaces, SimulSort and its non-visual counterpart Typical Sorting, with a multi-attribute decision-making problem. Because decision outcomes are known to be affected by the limitations of a person’s working memory, we conducted a crowdsourcing-based user study using SimulSort to understand how working memory, especially the phonological loop, can benefit from the using visualizations. We examined the impact on working memory with a well known dual-task methodology by designing a concurrent task to tap into the main decision-making task. The experiment was conducted with a total of 137 participants and an ordered logistic regression using a proportional odds model was applied to analyze the decision quality. The results supported the hypothesis that when using SimulSort, participants required less working memory than they required with Typical Sorting to accomplish the multi-attribute decision-making task even though SimulSort outperformed Typical Sorting in terms of decision quality. We also provide methodologies to conduct working memory studies by implementing an articulatory suppression task on crowdsourcing platforms in which experimenters have less control over the participants.
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