Effectively evaluating visualization techniques is a difficult task often assessed through feedback from user studies and expert evaluations. This work presents an alternative approach to visualization evaluation in which brain activity is passively recorded using electroencephalography (EEG). These measurements are used to compare different visualization techniques in terms of the burden they place on a viewer's cognitive resources. In this paper, EEG signals and response times are recorded while users interpret different representations of data distributions. This information is processed to provide insight into the cognitive load imposed on the viewer. This paper describes the design of the user study performed, the extraction of cognitive load measures from EEG data, and how those measures are used to quantitatively evaluate the effectiveness of visualizations. © 2011 The Author(s).