Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Article: Explaining "I can't draw"

I'm happy to say that I have a new article published in the journal Human Development that argues that learning how to draw is similar to learning how to speak.

I've always thought that this was among my best ideas, and apparently the journal agreed: they thought it was provocative enough that they invited two additional scholars to comment on my paper. From one of the reviews:

"Cohn’s paper can be viewed not just as an account of the development of drawing but also as representing a paradigmatic shift in the way we conceptualize the role of nature and nurture in development."

Here's the abstract:
Both drawing and language are fundamental and unique to humans as a species. Just as language is a representational system that uses systematic sounds (or manual/bodily signs) to express concepts, drawing is a means of graphically expressing concepts. Yet, unlike language, we consider it normal for people not to learn to draw, and consider those who do to be exceptional. Why do we consider drawing to be so different from language? This paper argues that the structure and development of drawing is indeed analogous to that of language. Because drawings express concepts in the visual-graphic modality using patterned schemas stored in a graphic lexicon that combine using ‘syntactic’ rules, development thus requires acquiring a vocabulary of these schemas from the environment. Without sufficient practice and exposure to an external system, a basic system persists despite arguably impoverished developmental conditions. Such a drawing system is parallel to the resilient systems of language that appear when children are not exposed to a linguistic system within a critical developmental period. Overall, this approach draws equivalence between drawing and the cognitive attributes of other domains of human expression.
The article is available directly here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Graphic Canon Vol. 2

On the non-theory front, I'm happy to announce that I have a piece in the recently released second volume of The Graphic Canon edited by Russ Kick. It's a collection of great literature, in this case from the 1800s, and adapted into graphic form by various authors. The book is beautiful inside and out.

My contribution is the second of my two versions of John Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." I'd first read the poem in high school and decided to draw a version during my first semester in college. Shortly after, I realized a second interpretation could be done of it that perhaps was closer to the way most interpret the poem, so I drew a second version that drew from the same layout and composition as the first (along with many of the same full pages).

I'm very proud to be able to contribute to this collection, and am glad its gotten so much attention. My piece pales in comparison to many of the others, so it's definitely worth checking out!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Review: How fast can you comprehend comic panels?

In this study, the authors wanted to know how much time it would take to comprehend each image of a sequence of images, both for how long each panel stayed on the screen, and for how long the time was between each panel ("interstimulus interval" or "ISI"). They compared normal four-panel long strips with sequences where the third panel was reversed with an adjacent panel (1-2-4-3 or 1-3-2-4). 

In the first experiment, they varied the length of time that each panel stayed on screen, 83 milliseconds (ms) and 150ms, with a constant ISI of 300ms between each exposure. They found that the responses to whether the sequence was in correct or incorrect order varied per speed. Panels at 83ms were only correctly responded to 24% of the time, while those at 150ms were correctly responded to 71% of the time. They conclude that 150ms is the minimum time necessary for exposure.

Experiment 2 varied ISI—the time between each panel—keeping each panel exposed on screen for 150ms. They found that accuracy increased as ISI increased. At 133ms, accuracy reached around 70%, staying constant through 217ms and 300ms. They thus conclude that an ISI of more than 130ms is necessary. 

I actually find these numbers to be blazing fast. In my experiments, we used a consistent ISI of 300ms to avoid the effect of panels seeming like they turned into a flipbook style animation. In self-paced reading, the speed of processing panels depended on both the complexity of the panel and its context in the sequence, but people would often average between 700ms or 1 second for reading each panel. In our measure of brainwaves—which are even more sensitive to the timing of the brain's comprehension—we don't fully get a response for activation of recognizing something is awry in meaningful information until starting around 200ms to 250ms at the very soonest.

Thus, I find it highly surprising that an exposure time of 150ms and an ISI of 130ms would be sufficient to get as accurate responses as they did. I would think that these numbers would be the absolute minimum amount of time necessary, and that these numbers may get larger if the panels were more complex (their stimuli looked even more simple than the Peanuts panels we use in our experiments).

ResearchBlogging.orgInui, Toshio, & Miyamoto, Kensaku (1981). The time needed to judge the order of a meaningful string of pictures Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 7 (5), 393-396 DOI: 10.1037//0278-7393.7.5.393