'Less is More' Online

Jul 10, 2007

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia have found that less is more when it comes to online content. In a study that examined responses to pictures viewed online, the researchers found that people were able to pay more attention to pictures selected from a small array of choices than from a large array of choices. These findings may have implications for Internet search engines, advertising and news sites.

"Look at any major news portal, and you may find as many as 50 hyperlinked stories on its front page. The prevalence of this extensive choice online suggests an assumption that people desire extensive options. In our study, however, we found that having more choices is not necessarily better. In fact, it can limit a person's ability to focus on the content," said Kevin Wise, assistant professor of strategic communication in MU's School of Journalism.

Wise and Kimberlee Pepple, a researcher at Fleishman-Hillard, conducted a study in which participants were asked to select three pictures they would like to examine more closely from an array of thumbnails. In one condition, participants chose from six thumbnail pictures; in another condition, they chose from 24. To determine participants' cardiac orienting responses, the researchers measured participants' heart rates while they viewed the pictures they had selected. An orienting response is an automatic short-term heart rate deceleration that indicates something has captured a person's attention. The researchers found that participants who viewed pictures selected from the array of six showed orienting responses, but those who viewed pictures selected from the array of 24 did not.

After viewing the pictures, participants completed an unrelated distraction task and then were given a picture recognition test. Participants who had selected from the limited array remembered the pictures with 99 percent accuracy, while participants who had selected from the extensive array only remembered the pictures with 89 percent accuracy. Participants also were faster at recognizing the pictures selected from the limited array.

Wise said this shows that recognition of pictures is fastest and most accurate when pictures are selected from limited options. He refers to this phenomenon as the difference between "getting there" and "being there." If a person uses too many mental resources getting to the picture, he or she won't have as many mental resources to use while "being there," when encoding the picture into memory.

"At some point, our mental processing resources become overloaded and cannot efficiently process new information without sacrificing old information. More mental resources were utilized when participants selected from 24 pictures than from six pictures, and this left participants who selected from the 24 pictures with fewer mental resources to devote to encoding the pictures they selected," Wise said. "When the process of 'getting there' requires greater cognitive effort, fewer cognitive resources remain to encode content while 'being there.'"

These results may have implications for presenting content online, especially for search engines and news portals, as well as sites that utilize advertising. Wise said companies might consider presenting fewer picture options online. Similar concepts may also apply to other types of content such as videos and text, but Wise said more research is needed to determine this.

The study, "The Effect of Available Choice on Cognitive Processing of Pictures," has been accepted for publication in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Explore further: Best of Last Week – First map of hidden universe, pursuit of compact fusion and new clues about the causes of depression

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why dogs are the new darlings of cognitive science

May 23, 2014

This will be his earliest memory. Red light, morning light. High ceiling canted overhead. Lazy click of toenails on wood. Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until it ...

PLANTOID: Building a robot to mimic plants

May 14, 2014

Many of us probably picture robots as roughly human-shaped - as seen in countless science fiction films - or perhaps as little more than mobile computers. But one EU project is taking inspiration from the ...

Recommended for you

US company sells out of Ebola toys

Oct 17, 2014

They might look tasteless, but satisfied customers dub them cute and adorable. Ebola-themed toys have proved such a hit that one US-based company has sold out.

Social trust eroded in Chinese product-tampering incident

Oct 14, 2014

For about a decade, Chinese consumers weren't getting what they paid for when they purchased Wuchang, a special brand of gourmet rice that has a peculiar scent. The quality was being diluted when less expensive rice was aromatized, ...

The 2014 Nobel Prizes at a glance

Oct 13, 2014

(AP)—All winners of the 2014 Nobel Prizes have now been announced, starting with the medicine award a week ago and ending with the economics prize on Monday.

User comments : 0