Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 583–590 | Cite as

The use of attention resources in navigation versus search

  • Ofer BergmanEmail author
  • Maskit Tene-Rubinstein
  • Jonathan Shalom
Original Article


Personal information management research has consistently shown navigation preference over search. One possible explanation for this is that search requires more cognitive attention than navigation. We tested this hypothesis using the dual-task paradigm. We read a list of words to each of our 62 participants, asked them to navigate or search to a target file, and then compared the number of words recalled in each condition. Participants remembered significantly more words when retrieving by navigation than by search. The fact that they performed better at the secondary task when navigating indicates that it required less cognitive attention than search. Our results also cast doubt on the assumption that search is more efficient and easier to use than navigation: Search took nearly three times longer than navigation, was more vulnerable to mistakes and retrieval failures and was perceived as more difficult on a subjective evaluation. Our results also support the folk belief that women are better than men and that younger people are better than older ones, at multitasking.


Personal information management File retrieval Attention Dual-task paradigm 



We thank our participants, Prof. Ruth Beyth-Marom, and Smadar Pilo. This research was partially funded by the European Union Marie Curie Grant, PERG-GA-2009-248997.


  1. 1.
    Barreau DK, Nardi BA (1995) Finding and reminding: file organization from the desktop. SIGCHI Bull 27(3):39–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Boardman R, Sasse MA (2004) “Stuff goes into the computer and doesn’t come out”: a cross-tool study of personal information management In: SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, Vienna, Austria. ACM Press, 985766, pp 583–590, doi: 10.1145/985692.985766
  3. 3.
    Kirk D, Sellen A, Rother C, Wood K (2006) Understanding photowork. In: SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, Montreal. ACM. doi:  10.1145/1124772.1124885
  4. 4.
    Teevan J, Alvarado C, Ackerman MS, Karger DR (2004) The perfect search engine is not enough: a study of orienteering behavior in directed search. In: SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, Vienna, Austria. ACM Press, pp 415–422Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bergman O, Beyth-Marom R, Nachmias R, Gradovitch N, Whittaker S (2008) Improved search engines and navigation preference in personal information management. ACM Trans Inform Syst 26(4):1–24. doi: 10.1145/1402256.1402259 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Kidd A (1994) The marks are on the knowledge worker In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems: celebrating interdependence. ACM Press, Boston, MA, pp 186–191Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Malone TW (1983) How do people organize their desks? Implications for the design of office information systems. ACM Trans Off Inform Syst 1:99–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Whittaker S, Sidner C (1996) Email overload: exploring personal information management of email. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems: common ground. ACM Press, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, pp 276–283Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Dumais ST, Cutrell E, Cadiz JJ, Jancke G, Sarin R, Robbins DC (2003) Stuff I’ve seen: a system for personal information retrieval and re-use. In: Proceedings of the 26th annual international ACM SIGIR conference on research and development in information retrieval. ACM Press, Toronto, Canada, pp 72–79Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Lansdale MW (1988) The psychology of personal information management. Appl Ergon 19(1):55–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Russell D, Lawrence S (2007) Search everything. In: Jones W, Teevan J (eds) Personal information management. University of Washington Press, Seattle, pp 153–166Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cutrell E, Dumais ST, Teevan J (2006) Searching to eliminate personal information management. Commun ACM 49(1):58–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Dourish P, Edwards WK, LaMarca A, Lamping J, Petersen K, Salisbury M, Terry DB, Thornton J (2000) Extending document management systems with user-specific active properties. ACM Trans Inf Syst 18(2):140–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Freeman E, Gelernter D (1996) Lifestreams: a storage model for personal data. SIGMOD Rec 25 (1):80–86. doi: 10.1145/381854.381893
  15. 15.
    Raskin J (2000) The humane interface: new directions for designing interactive systems. ACM Press/Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., BostonGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kobayashi M, Takeda K (2000) Information retrieval on the web. ACM Comput Surv 32(2):144–173. doi: 10.1145/358923.358934 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Capra RG, Pérez-Quiñones MA (2005) Using web search engines to find and refind information. Computer 38(10):36–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Whittaker S, Bergman O, Clough P (2009) Easy on that trigger dad: a long term family pictures retrieval study. Pers Ubiquit Comput 13(5):17–30Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Whittaker S, Matthews T, Cerruti J, Badenes H, Tang J (2011) Am I wasting my time organizing email? A study of email refinding. In: Conference on human factors in computing systems, VancouverGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Brown J (1958) Some tests of the decay theory of immediate memory. Q J Exp Psychol 10:12–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Peterson LR, Peterson MG (1959) Short-term retention of individual verbal items. J Exp Psychol 58(3):193–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Gwizdka J (2010) Distribution of cognitive load in Web search. J Am Soc Inform Sci Technol 61(11):2167–2187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Kim YM, Rieh SY (2005) Dual-task performance as a measure for mental effort in library searching and web searching. In: 68th annual meeting of the American society for information science & technology, USAGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Wicken CD (2002) Multiple resources and performance prediction. Theor Issues Ergon Sci 3(2):159–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Baddeley A (1992) Working memory. Science 255(5044):556–559. doi: 10.1126/science.1736359 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Miller G (1956) The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychol Rev 63(2):81–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Bergman O, Whittaker S, Sanderson M, Nachmias R, Ramamoorthy A (2010) The effect of folder structure on personal file navigation. J Am Soc Inform Sci Technol 61(12):2426–2441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Ingwersen P (1996) Cognitive perspectives of information retrieval interaction: elements of a cognitive IR theory. J Doc 52(1):3–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Hambrick DZ, Oswald FL, Darowski ES, Rench TA, Brou R (2010) Predictors of multitasking performance in a synthetic work paradigm. Appl Cogn Psychol 24(8):1149–1167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Ren D, Zhou H, Fu X (2009) A deeper look at gender difference in multitasking: Gender-specific mechanism of cognitive control. Paper presented at the fifth international conference on natural computation, TianjinGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Peter N (2010) Gender differences in multitasking. Tinbergen Institute, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Fisher H (1999) The first sex: the natural talents of women and how they are changing the world. Random HouseGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Popper KR (1963) Conjectures and refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge. RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Gurian M, Stevens K (2004) With boys and girls in mind. Educ Leadersh 62(3):21–26Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Carrier LM, Cheever NA, Rosen LD, Benitez S, Chang J (2009) Multitasking across generations: multitasking choices and difficulty ratings in three generations of Americans. Comput Hum Behav 25(2):483–489. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.10.012 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ofer Bergman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maskit Tene-Rubinstein
    • 1
  • Jonathan Shalom
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Information ScienceBar-Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

Personalised recommendations