6 February 2008

More Of The Same From The Net

by Kate Melville

While Internet search results do bring up a variety of useful materials, researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia have found that people pay more attention to information that matches their pre-existing beliefs and prejudices.

"Even if people read the right material, they are stubborn to changing their views," said one of the study authors, Professor Enrico Coiera. "This means that providing people with the right information on its own may not be enough."

The study focused specifically on how people use Internet search engines to answer health questions. "We know that the web is increasingly being used by people to help them make healthcare decisions," said Professor Coiera. "We know that there can be negative consequences if people find the wrong information, especially as people in some countries can now self-medicate by ordering drugs online. Our research shows that, even if search engines do find the 'right' information, people may still draw the wrong conclusions - in other words, their conclusions are biased."

Interestingly, what also matters is where the information appears in the search results and how much time a person spends looking at it, according to the research which has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. "The first or the last document the user sees has a much greater impact on their decisions," said Professor Coiera. The researchers conclude by suggesting that search engines could perhaps redesign their interfaces to allow people to better organize and analyze the information they find.

The Information Insurgency
Can Technology Make You Dumb?

Source: University of New South Wales