Icons improve older and younger adults' comprehension of medication information

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 1998 Jul;53(4):P240-54. doi: 10.1093/geronb/53b.4.p240.


We examined whether timeline icons improved older and younger adults' comprehension of medication information. In Experiment 1, comprehension of instructions with the icon (icon/text format) and without the icon (text-only format) was assessed by questions about information that was (a) implicit in the text but depicted explicitly by the icon (total dose in a 24 hour period), (b) stated and depicted in the icon/text condition (medication dose and times), and (c) stated but not depicted by the icon (e.g., side effects). In a separate task, participants also recalled medication instructions (with or without the icon) after a study period. We found that questions about dose and time information were answered more quickly and accurately when the icon was present in the instructions. Notably, icon benefits were greater for information that was implicit rather than stated in the text. This finding suggests that icons can improve older and younger adults' comprehension by reducing the need to draw some inferences. The icon also reduced effective study time (study time per item recalled). In Experiment 2, icon benefits did not occur for a less integrated version of the timeline icon that, like the text, required participants to integrate dose and time information in order to identify the total daily dose. The integrated version of the icon again improved comprehension, as in Experiment 1, as well as drawing inferences from memory. These findings show that integrated timeline icons improved comprehension primarily by aiding the integration of dose and time information. These findings are discussed in terms of a situation model approach to comprehension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Concept Formation*
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Labeling*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Writing*