Virtual Reality

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 1–7 | Cite as

Cognitive ability and information retrieval: When less is more

  • S. J. Westerman
  • T. Cribbin


This paper is concerned with the use of virtual environments as a means of conveying semantic information relating to the contents of computerised textual databases. two empirical studies are reported that investigated the influence of individual differences in cognitive ability on search task performance. In the first experiment, objects (each representing a type of animal) were placed ordinally in a three-dimensional cube arrangement based on ratings of semantic similarity. Participants were required to locate a series of randomly selected objects. Contrary to prediction, participants with high associative memory were comparatively poorer performers. In a second experiment ‘true’ rating distances were used to locate objects in virtual space. High spatial ability was associated with better performance and, in contrast with the results of Experiment 1, this pattern also was replicated for associative memory. Implications are discussed.


Individual Differences Information Retrieval Visualisation 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Fischer G, Stevens C. Information access in complex, poorly structured information space. In: Proceedings of CHI '91 ; 63–70Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Furnas GW. Navigation-by-query, query-by-navigation, and other tricks to try. In: Browsing vs. search: can we find a synergy. Panel (Mackinlay et al, eds), Proceedings of CHI '95; 180Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Mukherjea S, Foley JD. Showing the context of nodes in the World Wide Web. In: Proceedings of CHI '95; 326–327Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Chalmers M, Chiston P. Bead: explorations in information visualisation. In: Proceedings of SIGIR. London: Springer, 1992; 330–337Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Chen C. Bridging the gap: the use of pathfinder networks in visual navigation. Journal of Visual Language and Computing 1988; 9: 267–286Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Krohn U. Visualization of navigational retrieval in virtual information spaces. In: Proceedings of the Workshop on New Paradigms in Information Visualization and Manipulation. Baltimore, MD, 2 December 1995; 26–32Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Mariani JA, Lougher R. Triplespace: an experiment in a 3D graphical interface to a binary relational database. Interacting with Computers 1992; 4: 147–162Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Dillon A, McKnight C, Richardson J. Navigation in hypertext: a critical review of the concept. In: Proceedings of INTERACT '90. Amsterdam: North Holland 1990; 587–592Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Tolman EC. Cognitive maps in rats and men. Psychological Review 1948; 55: 189–208Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Chen C, Czerwinski M. Spatial ability and visual navigation: an empirical study. The New Review for Hypertext and Multimedia 1997; 3: 40–66Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Westerman SJ, Cribbin T. Mapping semantic information in virtual space: dimensions, variance, and individual differences. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, in pressGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Egan DE. Individual differences in human-computer interaction. In: Handbook of human-computer interaction. Hellander M, ed. Elsevier Science: North Holland; 543–569Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Westerman SJ. Individual differences in human-computer interaction. Unpublished PhD Dissertation. Birmingham: Aston University, 1993Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Carroll JB. Human cognitive abilities: a survey of factor analytic studies. Cambridge University Press, 1993Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Campagnoni FR, Erlich K. Information retrieval using a hypertext-based help system. ACM Transactions on Information Systems 1989; 7: 271–291Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Vicente KJ, Hayes BC, Williges RC. Assaying and isolating individual differences in searching a hierarchical file system. Human Factors 1987; 29; 349–359Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Westerman SJ. A comparison of the cognitive demands of navigating two- vs three-dimensional spatial database layouts. Ergonomics 1998; 41: 207–216Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Chen C. Individual differences in a spatial-semantic virtual environment. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 2000; 51: 529–542Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Battig WF, Montague WE. Category norms for verbal items in 56 categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology Monograph 1969: 80: 1–46Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Westerman SJ, CRibbin T. Navigating virtual information spaces: individual differences in cognitive maps. In: Proceedings of UK Virtual Reality Special Interest Group. Manchester, 1999; 95–105Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Smith P. Towards a practical measure of hypertext usability. Interacting with Computers 1996; 8: 365–381Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Vidulich MA, Tsang PS. Collecting NASA workload ratings: a paper and pencil package. Working Paper. Moffett Field, CA: NASA Ames Research Center, 1986Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Ekstrom RB, French JW, Harman HH. Manual for kit of factor-referenced cognitive tests. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1976Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology InstituteAston UniversityBirminghamUK

Personalised recommendations