In this paper, we explore how visual representations of information in 3D virtual environments (3DVEs) supports both individual and shared understanding, and consequently contribute to group decision making in tasks with a strong visual component. We integrate insights from cognitive fit theory and cognitive load theory in order to formulate hypotheses about how 3DVEs can contribute to individual understanding, shared understanding, and group decision making. We discuss the results of an experiment in which 192 participants, in 3-person teams, were asked to select an apartment. As proposed by cognitive fit theory, our results indicate that 3DVEs are indeed more effective in supporting individual understanding than 2D information presentations. Next, in line with cognitive load theory, the static presentation of 3D information turns out to be more effective in supporting shared understanding and group decision making than an immersive 3DVE. Our results suggest that although the 3DVE capabilities of realism, immersion and interactivity contribute to individual understanding, these capabilities combined with the interaction and negotiation processes required for reaching a shared understanding (and group decision), increases cognitive load and makes group processes inefficient. The implications of this paper for research and practice are discussed. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.