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Study: More is not better in search engine use

Google provides almost 100 million results for the query ”Britney Spears”. Researchers at Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT showed that users get overwhelmed with an increasing number of results. They are more satisfied with their choice when they are only given a few items.

In numerous everyday domains, it has been demonstrated that increasing the number of options beyond a handful can lead to paralysis and poor choice. That can decrease subsequent satisfaction with the choice. Research in psychology has shown that, for example, passersby are more likely to be drawn to jams on display, more likely to buy them, and more satisfied as customers when there are six jams to choose from than 24.

Researchers Antti Oulasvirta and Janne Hukkinen at HIIT, Finland and Barry Schwartz at Swarthmore College, USA, ran an experiment where 24 participants did normal information search tasks with Google. Half of the trials were done with 24 items on a page, and the rest with 6 items on a page. Having to choose from six results yielded both higher subjective satisfaction with the choice and greater confidence in its correctness than when there were 24 on the results page. The implication of the research to search engine design is that there are situations and users who might benefit from a reduced set of result items.

The results of the study are going to be presented in July at SIGIR, the flagship conference of the information retrieval community.

Network society is one of the research areas of Helsinki Institute for Information Technolgy HIIT. HIIT is a joint research institute of Helsinki University of Technology TKK and the University of Helsinki for basic and strategic research of the information technology.

More information:
Antti Oulasvirta, PhD
firstname.lastname@hiit.fi
Tel. +358 50 3841561