Information scent – credibility and gaze interactions: an eye-tracking analysis in information behaviour
Helena Lee and Natalie Pang
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
Introduction. The online web is inundated with a plethora of informational cues and hypertextual links for the ease of information retrieval. Information foraging theory posited that these links emit as information scent that aid web navigations. The perception of the information credibility of the informational cues and scents is contingent on the source, expertise, layout, and content on the websites. Despite past studies on information scent and information credibility relevant to information behaviour and source expertise, little work has been conducted to explore the conditions of task, and the credibility perception relevant to the types of information scent and information patches (webpages). The goal of this paper examines how the perception of information scent influences the assessment of information credibility. The study validates the eye-tracking data and qualitative content analysis to understand users’ attentional focus on information patches of varied genre.
Method. A quasi-experimental study was employed. Fifty-two university student-participants were recruited over three months between January and April, 2015. The study involved participants carrying out two information search tasks online in a computer laboratory. An eye-tracking tool was used to collect users’ eye movements to analyse their fixations and mouse-clicks. Post-interviews and surveys were conducted.
Analysis. Mixed methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis were employed. Quantitative evaluation draws from the eye-tracking assessment to examine users’ fixations, scanpath (gaze interactions) and link-clicks (information scent) behaviour on the selected area of interest. The qualitative method was based on the post experiment interviews, and interpreted through thematic coding.
Results. Findings from this study showed that the characteristics and condition of the information patch have a significant effect on users’ perceived information credibility. Overall users appraised the strong information scent patch higher when they perceived the site with information credibility, as compared to the weak information patch. High information patch is seen as reliable, while low information patch is viewed as untrustworthy. Conversely, users also spent a longer duration on high scent patch than on low patch. It was observed that users engage in predictive judgement of source credibility prior to information search, and the evaluative judgement of examining informational cues is prevalent during web navigation. The paper further provides insight on the conditions of task that have influential effect on credibility assessment and heuristic expectation of information patches. Through the link-clicks analysis, the components of salient information scents were identified. A typology of users’ interpretations of information credibility was established. This research sheds light on how individuals associate the allocation of attention as whole stimuli, in which the gaze interactions with the second cue was determinant on the scent of the first cue.
Conclusion. Overall, this study of information seeking behaviour contributes to the notion of informational cues, scent and credibility assessment. The findings show some evidential support on the influential effect of scent cues on users’ allocation of attention, and credibility perception. The paper demonstrates that intrinsic and extrinsic scent cues shape users’ information search decisions. It would be beneficial to conduct further research to investigate the foraging behaviour relevant to the information literacy, topical knowledge, and the motivation of task that shape the engagement of information scent during information retrieval and processing.
Keywords. Information credibility, information scent, cues, eye-tracking analysis, information foraging theory