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Dual-Task Performance as a Measure for Mental Effort in Library Searching and Web Searching

Yong-Mi Kim and Soo Young Rieh

Sparking Synergies: Bringing Research and Practice Together @ ASIST '05 (ASIS&T 2005)
Westin Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 28 - November 2, 2005


This paper reports on an exploratory study on using a dual-task method for the assessment of mental effort during online searching. Searching was assigned as a primary task and a visual observation was set up as a secondary task. The study participants were asked to perform two searches, one on the Web and the other in the university library’s web gateway. Perceived search difficulty and mental effort for searching on the two types of systems were compared through participant self-reports, dual-task performance, and search log analysis. After the searches were completed, the subjects reported that library searching was more difficult to conduct and they had to concentrate more into search than Web searching. However, the results of dual-task performance do not reveal much difference in mental effort or concentration during searches in the two systems. Rather, they invested mental effort differently when viewing search results and reading retrieved documents. The findings indicate that system characteristics alone cannot explain the complexities of the searching process, including mental effort. The efficacy of dual-task methodology in IR experiments is discussed.

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