Patricia Wright

Emeritus Professor

029 208 74007
Tower Building, Park Place

Research summary

People use verbal and/or pictorial information, either on paper or computer screen, as part of many every-day tasks both within and outside the workplace. The ease of using this information, or even whether it is consulted at all, depends on how it is designed and presented. My research explores how linguistic and visual design features influence the cognitive demands of working with the material to achieve task goals such as answering questions, making decisions or following instructions. My research has examined the contribution of spoken information for various sections of the general public, including older adults, people for whom English is not a first language and adults who class themselves as poor readers. We have found that these groups often benefit from listening, whereas the voice hampers fluent adults who read much faster than they listen. One implication is that online information will satisfy a wider audience if it provides the option of spoken text. Current research is examining how older adults could benefit from changes to the interface of ‘tablet’ computers.

Teaching summary

For 26 years I was a Title A Fellow at Churchill College Cambridge, where I was Director of Studies in Experimental Psychology. After joining Cardiff University in 1998 I co-directed the MSc in Occupational Psychology and taught on the Human-Machine Interaction course. I lecture to 1st year medical students about doctor-patient communication and the effects of health information on the internet. Lectures have been given to 2nd and 3rd year medical students about psychological development across the lifespan. I have also mentored academic staff developing their portfolios for the Professional Certificate in University Teaching and Learning.

Full list of publications


Research topics and related papers

Pictures and ageing

One strand of my recent research concerns the design of online information for older adults. We have found that for people over 60 years old, working with graphical interfaces is less acceptable than using plainer textual presentations. This is in line with evidence by my student Julie Griffin that older people can be distracted by some kinds of graphics in printed texts.

Griffin, J., and Wright, P. (2008) Older readers can be distracted by embellishing graphics in text. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 21 (5), 740-757.

Wright, P., Belt, S., John, C. (2003) Fancy graphics can deter older users: a comparison of two interfaces for exploring healthy lifestyle options. In E O’Neill, P Palanque, and P Johnson (eds) People and computers 17: Proceedings of HCI 2003: Designing for Society. London: Springer-Verlag (London) Ltd. pp 315-325.

Listening to instructions

Another research strand concerns the contributions of multimedia, such as animated graphics and audio, to helping people follow instructions. A variety of tasks have been explored, some on-screen others not. We have found that linguistic fluency, particularly the ease of reading English, can be a critical factor. People who are fluent readers dislike and can be hampered by spoken text; in contrast adults for whom English is a second language find it helpful to combine the spoken and written text, whereas adults who class themselves as poor readers are happy to dispense with the written text and rely on listening to the instructions. Our studies with older people suggest that there are variations in the representational strategies that they adopt when following instructions, variations that seem to reflect differences in their visual and verbal working memories.

Wright, P., Soroka, A.J., Belt, S. (2010) Audio changes how older people follow animations. Gerontechnology, 9 (2), 340.

Wright, P, Soroka, A., Belt, S., Dimov, S., Petrie, H., (2009) Effects of language fluency and graphic animation on modality choices by adults when following online explanatory demonstrations. Procedings of IEEE International Professional Comunicators’ Conference, Hawaii, July 2009.

Soroka, A.J., Wright, P., Belt, S., Pham, D.T., Dimov, S., De Roure D.C., Petrie, H. (2006). User choices for modalities of instructional information. Proceedings of 4th International IEEE Conference on Industrial Informatics. INDIN’06. August 2006, Singapore. pp16-18.

Audience diversity

A third research strand concerns the way people respond to online information ‘in the wild’. One study involved putting way finding information on a touch-screen in a hospital concourse. The weblog analysis, backed by observational analysis, showed the need to categorise ‘users’ (some of whom were young children) into Players and Enquirers. The advantages of examining the performance of categories of users were again evident when older men in their own homes accessed a website explaining the pros and cons of a screening test for prostate cancer. One design implication from this research is that care needs to be taken before assuming that there exists an average person for whom websites can be designed.

Wright, P., Soroka, A.J., Belt, S., Pham, D.T., Dimov, S., De Roure, D., Petrie, H. (2010) Using audio to support animated route information in a hospital touch-screen kiosk. Computers in Human Behavior, 26, 753-757.

Joseph-Williams, N., Evans, R., Edwards, A., Newcombe, R.G., Wright, P., Grol, R., Elwyn, G. (2010) 20 minutes to support informed decision making online: an observational web-log study of a PSA decision aid. Journal of Medical Internet Research (in press).

Research collaborators

Glyn Elwyn (Primary Care & Public Health, Cardiff University)
Adrian Edwards (Primary Care & Public Health, Cardiff University)
Rhodri Evans (Primary Care & Public Health, Cardiff University) 
Natalie Joseph-Williams
 (Primary Care & Public Health, Cardiff University)
Robert Newcombe (Primary Care & Public Health, Cardiff University)
Duc T. Pham
(Manufacturing Engineering Centre, Cardiff University)
Anthony Soroka
(Manufacturing Engineering Centre, Cardiff University)
Stefan Dimov (Manufacturing Engineering Centre, Cardiff University)
David De Roure
(Computer Science, Southampton University)

Previous students

Julie Griffin (2008). Selective attentional processes in mild Parkinson’s disease and mild Alzheimer’s disease. School of Psychology Studentship. 

Susan Wilkinson (2007) (Jointly supervised with Rob Honey and Steve Payne). Strategies for time allocation across multiple on-line texts. School of Psychology Studentship. 

Mustaffah, N. (2006). The role of graphics in the access and retention of online news stories.

Undergraduate education

1963: BSc Special in Psychology, University College London

Postgraduate education

1966: PhD in Psychology, University College London

1972: MA University of Cambridge

Awards/external committees

2005: IEEE Professional Communication Society: Alfred N Goldsmith Award “To recognise distinguished contributions to engineering communication”

2004: Publisher’s prize for best paper in 2003 in J Audio-Visual Media in Medicine

1998: ACM SIGDOC Joseph Rigo Award for contribution to the field of computer documentation. (ACM = Association for Computing; SIGDOC = Special Interest Group on Documentation)

1995: Elected Honorary Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, USA.

1989: Elected Fellow of the British Psychological Society.

1986: Prize for research contribution from Association for Clinical Research in the Pharmaceutical Industry.

1984: Commendation "for outstanding contribution to the literature of Instructional Development" from the Division of Instructional Development of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (USA).

1980: Certificate of Appreciation for "Dedication and contribution to improvement of technical communication" from the Norwegian Society for Technical Communication.

1979: Sir Frederic Bartlett Medal from the Ergonomics Society.

1978: Elected Fellow of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators.

1972: Elected Fellow of Churchill College Cambridge


2009 – present: Professor Emerita, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, UK.

1999 - 2009: Professor, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, UK.

1998 - 1999: Distinguished Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, UK.

1972 –1998: College Lecturer in Psychology, Churchill College Cambridge, UK

1966 - 1998: Member of the Medical Research Council's non-clinical scientific staff, employed in Cambridge at the Applied Psychology Unit. From 1983 on Special Appointment grade that is formally equivalent to the British university professor.

Editorial boards / advisory boards

2009 to present: IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication.

2004 to present: Information Design Journal + Document Design. John Benjamins, Amsterdam

2001 to present: Gerontechnology. HolaPress Science, Amsterdam.

1985 to present: Visible Language published by Visible Language, USA

1999 to 2004: Document Design - Advisory Board - John Benjamins, Amsterdam

1978 to 2004: Information Design Journal published by IDJ Ltd, UK

1994 - 2001: Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied published by the American Psychological Association

1993 - 2000: Advances in HCI - an annual book series published by Wiley

1993 - 1999: Written Communication: an International Quarterly of Research, Theory and Application published by Sage, USA

1985 - 1989: International Review of Ergonomics published by Taylor and Francis, UK

1981 - 1984: Applied Psycholinguistics published by Cambridge University Press, UK

Other external roles

2005: Member of Corona for PhD at University of Maastricht

2003: External Examiner for PhD at University of Antwerp

1999: External Examiner for PhD at L’Université de Bourgogne

1997 – 2004: Chair British Standards Institute Committee IDT/2/6 on Technical Documentaion

1995: External Examiner for PhD at University of Toronto, Canada

1991-94: Member of Doctoral Committee of PhD student in Psychology Department at Carnegie-Mellon University, USA.