Authentic versus synthetic: An investigation of the influences of study settings and task configurations on search behaviors

Yiwei Wang, Chirag Shah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In information seeking and retrieval research, researchers often collect data about users' behaviors to predict task characteristics and personalize information for users. The reliability of user behavior may be directly influenced by data collection methods. This article reports on a mixed-methods study examining the impact of study setting (laboratory setting vs. remote setting) and task authenticity (authentic task vs. simulated task) on users' online browsing and searching behaviors. Thirty-six undergraduate participants finished one lab session and one remote session in which they completed one authentic and one simulated task. Using log data collected from 144 task sessions, this study demonstrates that the synthetic lab study setting and simulated tasks had significant influences mostly on behaviors related to content pages (e.g., page dwell time, number of pages visited per task). Meanwhile, first-query behaviors were less affected by study settings or task authenticity than whole-session behaviors, indicating the reliability of using first-query behaviors in task prediction. Qualitative interviews reveal why users were influenced. This study addresses methodological limitations in existing research and provides new insights and implications for researchers who collect online user search behavioral data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of the Association for Information Science and Technology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences

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