Are You Over-Googling?
The majority of people living in modern societies google or use an internet search engine at least once per day, more often many times per day.
From researching a product or service that they wish to purchase to searching for work purposes or finding a recipe for dinner, search engines reduce the effort to identify our preferences.
But is it possible that excessive searching is counter-productive? We already know that Choice Overload can be Demotivating but can excessive researching lead to poorer choices?
Researchers from Fooyin University in Taiwan aimed to examine exactly this:
we are developing a symbiotic relationship with the Internet by relying on search tools to locate the information we seek. Therefore, it is important to investigate the factors that may induce excessive searching and may thereby affect choice quality.
The team behind the research argued that cognitively the large number of search options may induce excessive searching and result in poor choice, as well as searching through more options that may lead to the searcher to spend less time processing the information that has been found.
To test this theory the researchers recruited 64 participants and framed the question as “Finding Your Best Partner for a Romantic Relationship” in order to obscure the true purpose of the study whilst still being able to gain data about how people search for information.
Participants were then asked to search for specific criteria and to generate a list of potential partners.
From the information gathered in the experiment the researchers were able to identify that too many search options did indeed reduce accuracy:
This research found that consideration of a larger number of options was detrimental to the search process and led to poorer choices, which is consistent with previous research
The researchers found that motivations of accuracy known as the accuracy incentive propelled the participants to excessively search:
The negative effect of a greater accuracy incentive on choice quality was mediated by the number of options considered
That is to say that too many options meant an accurate decision was not possible.
The authors of the study argued that this may be happening for one of two reasons, firstly people become distracted by too many options and end up considering irrelevant information or that secondly that people give greater weight to information that is more easily accessible.
The authors conclude with the following advice:
Another strategy to counteract the negative effect of excessive searching may involve encouraging greater focus on one’s original preferences and intentions when searching a larger set of possibilities