Online Information Search Performance and Search Strategies in a Health Problem-Solving Scenario

Joseph Sharit, Jessica Taha, Ronald W. Berkowsky, Halley Profita, Sara J. Czaja

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Although access to Internet health information can be beneficial, solving complex health-related problems online is challenging for many individuals. In this study, we investigated the performance of a sample of 60 adults ages 18 to 85 years in using the Internet to resolve a relatively complex health information problem. The impact of age, Internet experience, and cognitive abilities on measures of search time, amount of search, and search accuracy was examined, and a model of Internet information seeking was developed to guide the characterization of participants search strategies. Internet experience was found to have no impact on performance measures. Older participants exhibited longer search times and lower amounts of search but similar search accuracy performance as their younger counterparts. Overall, greater search accuracy was related to an increased amount of search but not to increased search duration and was primarily attributable to higher cognitive abilities, such as processing speed, reasoning ability, and executive function. There was a tendency for those who were younger, had greater Internet experience, and had higher cognitive abilities to use a bottom-up (i.e., analytic) search strategy, although use of a top-down (i.e., browsing) strategy was not necessarily unsuccessful. Implications of the findings for future studies and design interventions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-228
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 21 2015


  • cognitive modeling
  • decision aiding
  • health care delivery
  • human computer interaction
  • information processing
  • problem solving/reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Computer Science Applications


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