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Effects of Picture Motion in Animation on Human Cognition and Psychology


This dissertation does a comparison of the effects of picture motion in animations has on human cognition and psychology, in comparison to still graphics.

Over the years, one of the attributes of media presentations that has seemingly been having significant effects on individual responses is whether images are still or moving. In the physical world, motion makes up a significant attribute, and people`s brains have over time been adapted to the fact with nerve cells that are specialized and that have the capacity of detecting and processing motion (Detenber and Lang, 2010). There is evidence from research that the perception of motion is an innate ability that is important in the development of an understanding of the physical world. In addition, motion also figures rather prominently in the world of media and this comes about from motion being a defining characteristic of different communication technologies like multimedia, and video and film. According to film theorists such as IJsselsteijn et al. (2001), motion is quite expressive and has the capabilities of evoking strong emotional responses among viewers. It is therefore not surprising that video production and film instruction places emphasis on the important role played by the integration of appropriate motion and messages. In the current world of new media, significant resources have been invested aimed at making images move and that is because motion is seen as being highly desirable. It is however, worth noting that even with the relatively widespread assumptions of the important role played by motion in media messages, there are not as many studies that investigate the effects of picture motion in animations on audiences in the context of cognitive perception and psychology.


Presently, animation is not just a simple superstition of general movements. On the contrary, it designs the dynamics, sound effects and colors of objects on the basis of engineering psychology. In psychological research, there has been a longstanding tradition of continuously trying to create emotional states inside laboratories for scientific aims (Whitaker and Halas, 2013). There are various methods that are commonly used and these include hypnosis, imagery, music, facial muscle movement, interaction with trained confederates, and even drug and deprivation of sleep. It is however, worth noting that one of the methods of induction of emotional states that is widely accepted and used and which does not involve deception and whose standardization is easy, is the use of pictures (Hoffler and Leutner, 2007). Pictures and films are widely accepted and used stimuli for elicitation of emotions.

Animation has increasingly been used for the illustration of dynamics. Research by Betrancourt (2005) and Hoffler and Leutner (2007) provides evidence of diagrams having the potential of reducing cognitive processing as a result of the perceptual availability of information, which makes it increasingly explicit, and subsequently requiring reduced inferencing. Therefore, animation is reported to enhance learning and that especially happens during the illustration of dynamic processes and this is because during such processes, the depiction of motion is more visually explicitly, which reduces cognitive processing (Anglin, Vaez and Cunningham, 2013). However, while animation has the potential of increasing explicit perceptually available information, it is worth noting that it does not automatically lead to improved understanding. By itself, visual explicitness is not even a guarantee of accurate perception of specific information, and neither is comprehension guaranteed by information perception (Mayer and Moreno, 2002). From initial studies, such as Bentracourt (2005), there is evidence of various characteristics of diagrammatic animation having significant effects on cognitive interaction with material and therefore, also affecting comprehension.

Among communication scholars, there has been increasing attention that has been accorded to the study of emotion. To some extent, the trend is reflective of recognition of the significant role played by emotion in social life and daily experiences. It has become quite common to see websites with animation and some of these animations are increasingly dynamic and flashy than others. Cognitive psychology research addresses the issue of attention within dynamic environments. Further evidence points to the nature of dynamism as having an effect on attention (Hoffler and Leutner, 2007). Dynamic fields could possibly involve letters, pictures, digits, and even the direction of movement of items, with the potential of affecting attention.

Research by Mayer and Moreno (2002) established the presence of a relationship between attention and the degree of animation within webpages and further established that there was an effect of attention on the intensity of cognitive responses. They considered the direction and focus of mental efforts as the two primary dimensions that cognitive responses could possibly be decoupled into.

Animation and cognitive perception

While the effects of animated graphics on learning are still controversial, one of the main reasons behind the continued popularity of animation is that animations are way more interesting, have an aesthetic appeal, and are therefore, more motivating. There are several studies which point to the preference of animation being a result of their perceptual attractiveness (Meyer, Rasch and Schnotz, 2010). When people find animation more attractive and interesting, the resulting reasoning would be that there is a high likelihood that they would be more attentive to them.

The comparison of animated graphics and static graphics has been made in multiple studies. There are some that claim that animated graphics are way better than static graphics, with students learning from animated graphics being observed to outperform those who learn from static graphics, for instance, the understanding of algebra rate problems and electronic circuits (Anglin, Vaez and Cunningham, 2013; She and Chen, 2009).

While there is the possibility of there being domains whereby animation is an important characteristic of the domain that learners have to understand, for example, changes of the system occurring in parallel and that are not easy to depict through the use of static graphics, from close comparison of graphics in different studies, it is revealed that there is way more information that is portrayed by animated graphics, in comparison to static graphics (Flecken et al., 2015). Meyer, Rasch and Schnotz (2010) particularly argue that in animated graphics, there is more additional information that is depicted, information that is otherwise, not depicted in static graphics. In studies equating the existing information in static and animated graphics, there have been no differences found between comprehension and memory. There are also studies that have found no benefits of animated graphics over equivalent static graphics.

Flecken et al. (2015) point out that there exist potential disadvantages of animated graphics over static ones. It is a fact that animations change over time, which implies that it is not possible to inspect and re-inspect them in the same way as static diagrams. There is also the probability of the information that is present in animation being fleeting and hard to process. Additionally, motion by itself attracts attention and therefore, the less important but increasingly active aspects of animation often override the voluntary control of attention to aspects that are important. Often, animations are complex and that males it rather hard for novices to distinguish between the important features that have to be attended to and processed. The complexity given by animations could end up overwhelming learners leading them to regarding animations passively and not actively (Schar and Krueger, 2000). There is evidence therefore, of animations having the potential of distracting attention and interfering with deeper processing, which has a negative effect on comprehension.

It is however worth noting that even with the presence of controversies in relation to the effects of animated graphics on learning, the growing popularity of animation seemingly emanates from the beliefs that animations are way more interesting, have an aesthetic appeal and are increasingly motivating. Bentracourt, Dillenbourg and Clavien (2008) point out that the preference for animation is for their perceptual attractiveness even though the findings are not universal. By itself, interestingness is not a unitary concept. There are two different types of interest that are distinguishable: emotional interest and cognitive interest. Tversky, Morrison and Bentracourt (2002) argue that emotional interest comes about from arousing events, while cognitive interest comes about from relationships between background knowledge and incoming information. Research on cognitive interest shows that it is possible to generate interest by the intellectual activities of resolving congruity like what is entailed when inferences are being made (Schar and Krueger, 2000). These findings are suggestive of static graphics having a higher likelihood of increasing cognitive interest as compared to animated graphics and that is because learners are required by static graphics to generate more inferences for purposes of filling the existing gaps. Animated graphics on the other hand have a higher likelihood of increasing emotional interest as compared to static graphics because animation has the potential of inducing higher levels of arousal.

In the scenarios where motion is simplified to the path or trajectory of a single object instead of the complex interactions of moving parts, motion perceptions may fail to be accurate. Often, sketches of pendula trajectories, propelled objects, and dropped objects by both experts and novices are often incorrect, seemingly governed by perceptual principles taking forms that are Gestalt-like instead of physics laws. Moving objects follow paths that are perceived as being close to horizontal or vertical than they are. For some kinds of motion, observers are at liberty to select the correct path from an animation, but when they begin reproducing it, they do it incorrectly.

Even in those scenarios where actual motion is continuous and smooth, people often conceive of it as being made up of steps that are discrete. Whenever the conception of motion happens in discrete steps instead of continuously, then the natural way to convey it could be through its portrayal in discrete steps instead of continuous motion, for instance, with the case of assembling objects and operating machines, where a separate frame is used to portray each step and the ordering of the frames follows the sequence of steps (Tversky, Morrison and Bentracourt, 2002). In the case of simple motion, as in an object`s path, the path can be conveyed by a single diagram, using lines and arrows as indicators. Additionally, in correspondence to the way people conceive of animations, there are additional advantages to these diagrammatic devices in that they make it easy to compare and re-inspect the actions details (Meyer, Rasch and Schnotz, 2010). On the contrary, animations are characteristically fleeting, implying that they disappear, and when it is possible to re-inspect, the re-inspection has to be done in motion, and this often makes it difficult to simultaneously perceive the different minute changes.

Case study

With multiple previous research demonstrating the cognitive benefits accruing from multimedia learning (Mayer, 2009; Park, Plass and Brunken, 2014; Um et al., 2012), recent research has continuously taken into account the influence that affective processes, including emotion (Heidig, Muller and Reichelt, 2015; Park et al., 2015) and motivation (Mayer, 2014; Park et al., 2011), have on multimedia learning. According to Heidig, Muller and Reichelt (2015), using visual design elements (emotional design) in multimedia has the potential of prompting positive emotions, thereby promoting learning. In order to understand the impact of animation in learning, the study will investigate Tien, Chiou and Lee’s (2018) research paper: Emotional Design in Multimedia Learning: Effects of Multidimensional Concept Maps and Animation on Affect and Learning. The study’s findings illustrate that the use of multimedia learning materials together with colorful multidimensional concept maps and animations resulted in significantly increased learning well-being and higher learning achievements among learners, compared to the use of achromatic multidimensional concept maps.

The study, which adopted a quasi-experimental design, made use of 114 participants (students) drawn from two classes in the college of business in a private Taiwanese university, and who were divided into two participant groups- 56 students (49.1%) were assigned to the experimental group, and the remaining 58 (50.9%) to the control group. Out of the 114 participants, female participants accounted for 64 (30 in the experimental and 34 in the control group), while male participants accounted for 50 (24 in the control and 36 in the experimental group). The 56 students in the experimental group made use of CMCMAMs during their learning, whereas those in the control group used AMCMMs (multimedia materials with achromatic multimedia multidimensional concept maps). Learning achievement is the dependent variable that the study sought to investigate, with the mediating variable being learning well-being. The study also used the financial accounting course as its experimental course. This is because the clarification and integration of accounting concept comprised the most important area in the learning of financial accounting (Chiou, 2008; Chiou et al., 2015). The study drew on a one-way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA), a Sobel’s z-test, a paired sample t-test and a path regression analysis to analyze its data.

With regard to learning achievement, data analysis using the one-way ANCOVA analysis shows that the control group had a 56.38 mean score and a standard deviation of 19.14, while the experimental group a mean score of 70, and a standard deviation of 15.52. These findings, after the exclusion of their pre-test scores, shows that the experimental group participants exhibited a significantly better performance compared to their control group counterparts, thereby supporting the hypothesis that learning using CMCMAMs resulted in learners’ improved learning achievements. Similar findings were obtained in relation to learners’ learning well-being- learning with CMCMAMs significantly increased students’ learning well-being compared to when they used traditional linear teaching materials, and that the use of AMCMMs did not result in a higher learning well-being when compared to the use of traditional linear teaching materials. This finding also supported the hypothesis that the use of CMCMAMs significantly resulted in an improved learners’ learning well-being. Overall, further analysis showed that the effect of learning using various multimedia materials on learners’ learning achievement was fully mediated by the learners’ learning well-being.

The above findings by Tien, Chiou and Lee (2018) that learning with CMCMAMs could improve academic achievement are in line with those of Chiou et al. (2015) and Tien et al. (2018), who also empirically demonstrated that teaching using CMCMAMAs improved memory retention and learning achievement, as well as students’ learning well-being, particularly academic achievement.

To further improve our understanding of how animation influences learning, the study will also investigate a study by Kim et al. (2006), in which they investigated the effect that animation had on learners’ comprehension and interest. The study drew on a total of 208 participants- 101 fourth grade students and 107 sixth grade students from a public elementary school in Seoul. The participants were then randomly assigned to one of the four presentation conditions in a 4 (presentation model) x 2 (NFC level) between subject-factorial design. The study participants were exposed to a static version of the experimental material drawn from the static illustration in The World Book Encyclopedia (1991) that demonstrated the operation of a bicycle tire pump, with the static graphics comprising eight black-and-white line-drawings. The experimental materials constituted four programs that illustrated the bicycle tire pump in varying presentation styles; simultaneous presentation of static graphics, successive presentation of static graphics, self-paced presentation of static graphics, and animated presentation of graphics. Each program incorporated a narration that comprised a 32-word description. The Vandenberg Mental Rotation Test by Vandenberg and Kuse (1978) was employed in the assessment of students’ spatial abilities. The students were then administered the abbreviated version of the Need for Cognition scale to evaluate the extent to which each student undertook effortful cognitive processing (Cacioppo et al., 1984), as a result of which they were categorized into low and high NFC groups depending on the median split. Students categorized as high NFC are those who scored higher than the median on the NFC scale, and they included 48 of the 101 fourth grade students and 57 of the 107 sixth grade students. The rest were categorized in the low NFC, having scored below the median on the NFC score. The participants were then randomly assigned to one of the four program conditions: simultaneous static-graphic presentation (15 low NFC and 11 high NFC fourth grade students, 17 low NFC and 9 high NFC sixth graders); successive static-graphic presentation (13 low NFC and 12 high NFC fourth graders, 11 low NFC and 19 high NFC sixth graders); self-paced static-graphic presentation (12 low NFC and 13 high NFC fourth grade students, 9 low NFC and 12 high NFC sixth graders); and animated-graphic presentation (13 low NFC and 12 high NFC fourth graders, 13 low NFC and 17 high NFC sixth graders). The students were then allowed to view the learning material thrice, after which they were administered the comprehension test, which comprised 20 true-false questions to evaluate the students’ understanding and knowledge on the bicycle tire pump’s structure and function, followed by an attitudinal questionnaire to subjectively rate the students’ perceived comprehensibility, interestingness, enjoyment and motivation.

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From the study, it is established that animations do not have any better beneficial cognitive and psychological effects in comparison to static images. Animation proves to be way valuable compared to still diagrams. The nature of animations, their vivacity, and the direction taken by the animations, could have repercussions with effects on attention. From the existing literature on cognitive psychology, it can therefore be concluded that animations have a distinct effect on attention.


Anglin, G.J., Vaez, H. and Cunningham, K.L., 2013. Visual representations and learning: The role of static and animated graphics. In Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (pp. 854-905). Routledge.

Bétrancourt, M., 2005. The animation and interactivity principles in multimedia learning. The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning, pp.287-296.

Bétrancourt, M., Dillenbourg, P. and Clavien, L., 2008. Display of key pictures from animation: Effects on learning. In Understanding multimedia documents (pp. 61-78). Springer, Boston, MA.

Cacioppo, J.T., Petty, R.E. and Feng Kao, C., 1984. The efficient assessment of need for cognition. Journal of personality assessment, 48(3), pp.306-307.

Chiou, C.C., 2008. The effect of concept mapping on students’ learning achievements and interests. Innovations in Education and teaching International, 45(4), pp.375-387.

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Meyer, K., Rasch, T. and Schnotz, W., 2010. Effects of animation's speed of presentation on perceptual processing and learning. Learning and Instruction, 20(2), pp.136-145.

Park, B., Plass, J.L. and Brünken, R., 2014. Cognitive and affective processes in multimedia learning.

Schar, S.G. and Krueger, H., 2000. Using new learning technologies with multimedia. IEEE multimedia, 7(3), pp.40-51.

She, H.C. and Chen, Y.Z., 2009. The impact of multimedia effect on science learning: Evidence from eye movements. Computers & Education, 53(4), pp.1297-1307.

Tien, L.C., Chiou, C.C. and Lee, Y.S., 2018. Emotional Design in Multimedia Learning: Effects of Multidimensional Concept Maps and Animation on Affect and Learning. EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 14(12), p.em1612.

Um, E., Plass, J.L., Hayward, E.O. and Homer, B.D., 2012. Emotional design in multimedia learning. Journal of educational psychology, 104(2), p.485.

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