Subjective Factors in Information Seeking

11 August 2009

This article in JASIST caught my eye:

“The role of subjective factors in the information search process,” by Jacek Gwizdka (Rutgers), Irene Lopatovska (Pratt). Forthcoming.

“Subjective factors” are any and all of the feelings and perceptions users have while seeking information:

In this article, we refer to ratings that were self-reported by searchers as subjective factors. This broad term includes affective (e.g., positive and negative feelings), cognitive (e.g., perception of being lost), and evaluative (e.g., judgment of task difficulty) measures that reflected searchers’ perceptions of self and the search environment.

Not surprisingly, the authors show that stuff like emotions and subjective perceptions play an important role in searching for information online:

The findings confirm some previous results as well as extend them. For example, we found the link between objective search-task difficulty (e.g., the amount of time spent on the task, number of pages visited, etc.) and the perception of task difficulty; the link between the mood and search behavior and outcomes. All these findings are in line with previous research on the role of subjective factors in information seeking.

Our original findings suggest that better mood before and during the search correlates with better mood after the search, but also correlates with worse performance on the search task and lower satisfaction. We based our analysis on statistical correlations. The effects of controlled factors , and the relationships between variables with a strictly defined order in time allow us to talk about plausible causal effects. If causal relationships are verified, the finding implies that mood might be a major predictor of search outcomes (regardless of the task or the interface), and individual differences between the searchers (optimists vs. pessimists, searchers experiencing positive vs. negative affective states, etc.) might have a major effect on search outcomes. To a certain degree, this finding also questions the efforts to design pleasurable search experiences since feeling good during the search does not seem to translate into better search task outcomes. Due to the potential importance of these findings, they should be further investigated and validated.

Very interesting that mood plays affects success of a search outcome.

I’ve written and talked about the potential role emotions play in information seeking in the past. In fact, the authors cite my 2006 JASIST article: “I’m feeling lucky : The role of emotions in seeking information on the Web.” And I presented a model at the 2004 IA Summit in Austin called the Information Search Experience (ISX).

Or see a previous blog posting with an excerpt from Designing Web Navigation, where I also briefly mention emotions and information seeking.

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