Visual narrative comprehension: Universal or not?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Visual narratives of sequential images - as found in comics, picture stories, and storyboards - are often thought to provide a fairly universal and transparent message that requires minimal learning to decode. This perceived transparency has led to frequent use of sequential images as experimental stimuli in the cognitive and psychological sciences to explore a wide range of topics. In addition, it underlines efforts to use visual narratives in science and health communication and as educational materials in both classroom settings and across developmental, clinical, and non-literate populations. Yet, combined with recent studies from the linguistic and cognitive sciences, decades of research suggest that visual narratives involve greater complexity and decoding than widely assumed. This review synthesizes observations from cross-cultural and developmental research on the comprehension and creation of visual narrative sequences, as well as findings from clinical psychology (e.g., autism, developmental language disorder, aphasia). Altogether, this work suggests that understanding the visual languages found in comics and visual narratives requires a fluency that is contingent on exposure and practice with a graphic system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266–285
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Early online date9 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • fluency
  • visual narrative
  • linguistics
  • autism
  • child development
  • developmental psychology
  • cross-cultural psychology


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