Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. C. Melody Carswell


Objective: The goal of this research was to determine whether alternate-line shading (zebra-striping) of grid-based displays affects the strategy (i.e., “visual flow”) and efficiency of serial search. Background: Grids, matrices, and tables are commonly used to organize information. A number of design techniques and psychological principles are relevant to how viewers’ eyes can be guided through such visual works. One common technique for grids, “zebra-striping,” is intended to guide eyes through the design, or “create visual flow” by alternating shaded and unshaded rows or columns. Method: 13 participants completed a visual serial search task. The target was embedded in a grid that had 1) no shading, 2) shading of alternating rows, or 3) shading of alternating columns. Response times and error rates were analyzed to determine search strategy and efficiency. Results: Our analysis found evidence supporting a weak effect of shading on search strategy. The direction of shading had an impact on which parts of the grid were responded to most rapidly. However, a left-to-right reading bias and middle-to-outside edge effect were also found. Overall performance was reliably better when the grid had no shading. Exploratory analyses suggest individual differences may be a factor. Conclusion: Shading seems to create visual flow that is relatively weak compared to search strategies related to the edge effect or left-to-right reading biases. In general, however, the presence of any type of shading reduced search performance. Application: Designers creating a grid-based display should not automatically assume that shading will change viewers search strategies. Furthermore, although strategic shading may be useful for tasks other than that studied here, our current data indicate that shading can actually be detrimental to visual search for complex (i.e., conjunctive) targets.