Three experiments examined how bottom-up and top-down processes interact when people view and make inferences from complex visual displays (weather maps). Bottom-up effects of display design were investigated by manipulating the relative visual salience of task-relevant and task-irrelevant information across different maps. Top-down effects of domain knowledge were investigated by examining performance and eye fixations before and after participants learned relevant meteorological principles. Map design and knowledge interacted such that salience had no effect on performance before participants learned the meteorological principles; however, after learning, participants were more accurate if they viewed maps that made task-relevant information more visually salient. Effects of display design on task performance were somewhat dissociated from effects of display design on eye fixations. The results
support a model in which eye fixations are directed primarily by top-down factors (task and domain knowledge). They suggest that good display design facilitates performance not just by guiding where viewers look in a complex display but also by facilitating processing of the visual features that represent task-relevant information at a given display location.