Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


School of Library and information Science


College of Information and Communications

First Advisor

Samantha Hastings


This research investigates differences in Web search behavior from a “cultural cognition” perspective, which was introduced by Nisbett and Norenzayan (2002). To explore the impact of culture and thinking styles on searching behavior is the objective. The overarching hypothesis is that there are cultural differences in cognitive styles and that these differences may lead into different searching behaviors. The findings help search engine designers provide an adaptive navigation support to users from different cultural backgrounds and cognitive styles. The fundamental research question underpinning this research becomes what are the relationships between users’ cognitive styles and cultural background, and their Web search behavior? The results of this doctoral study help with understanding how cognitive processes are modulated by cultures so as to give rise to cultural specific thinking and Web navigation styles.

The assumption here is that differences in cognitive style will drive variations in Web search behavior based on national cultural orientation. To examine the research hypotheses, hundred and eleven research subjects are selected from three cultural groups: Americans, Iranians, and Chinese. The two independent factors that are studied in this experimental research are: cultural background and cognitive style. After answering a demographic questionnaire, the participants are given two types of task scenarios to perform on Google while two tracking applications (TechSmith Morae and MyGaze) record their mouse and eye movements. The users’ search behavior is studied through several measures of eye gaze, click behavior, and viewing pattern. By employing the Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance (RM ANOVA) test, the relationships between the independent variables and the search measurements are studied and analyzed using SAS statistical analysis application. This research was conducted in a controlled usability lab, and the participants were provided with a $10 incentive upon finishing the experiment.

Even though the results from the statistical analysis did not show significant evidence to support variation in cognitive styles between the participating cultural groups, country of origin appeared to be a strong predictor of differences in the measurements of search behavior. Considering the research hypotheses and the results, we found that the Americans’ search behaviors tended to be more analytical and less explorative, whereas the Iranians and Chinese tended to engage in more exploratory behaviors.