'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: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The camouflage games: Can you spot the bird?

Feb 20, 2014

So how long did it take you to spot the nightjar in the video on this page? For the predators trying to outsmart their concealed prey it's about not going hungry. But for the birds and the eggs that they ...

Rosetta: To chase a comet

Jan 20, 2014

Comets are among the most beautiful and least understood nomads of the night sky. To date, half a dozen of these most heavenly of heavenly bodies have been visited by spacecraft in an attempt to unlock their ...

Decade-old rover adventure continues on Mars and Earth

Jan 06, 2014

(Phys.org) —Eighth graders didn't have Facebook or Twitter to share news back then, in January 2004. Bekah Sosland, 14 at the time, learned about a NASA rover landing on Mars when the bouncing-ball video ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Apr 19, 2014

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.