news cues: information scent and cognitive heuristics
S. Shyam Sundar
Matthias R. Hastall
This study is published in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(3), pp. 366-378.
Google News and other newsbots have automated the process of news selection, providing Internet users with a virtually limitless array of news and public information dynamically culled from thousands of news organizations all over the world. In order to help users cope with the resultant overload of information, news leads are typically accompanied by three cues: (a) source cue - the name of the primary source from which the headline and lead were borrowed, (b) recency cue - the time elapsed since the story broke, and (c) the number of related articles (NRA) written about this story by other news organizations tracked by the newsbot. This research investigates the psychological significance of these cues. It attempts to understand the nature of user reliance on proximal cues to solve the information overload problem, particularly the role of information scent conveyed by the cues in shaping decision-making about the perceived value of distal information. The research takes a perceptual approach to the issue as opposed to a behavioral one. Grounded in social cognition, this approach makes the fundamental assumption that information scent is processed heuristically than systematically.
Hypotheses & research question
This article suggests that the information scent transmitted by each cue triggers a distinct heuristic (mental shortcut) that tends to influence online users' perceptions of a given news item, with implications for their assessment of the item's relevance to their information needs and interests.
The number of related articles (NRA), the other source cue triggers the professional expertise heuristic leading to:
The NRA cue may trigger the bandwagon heuristic, which peaks directly to the relevance criterion, which can affect perceived newsworthiness of the news item as well as the likelihood of clicking the headline to access the full story. Hence the following two hypotheses are proposed.
Since the three news cues do not appear in isolation on the news site, their combinatory effects are more ecologically informative than their individual effects. Following the logic and rationale of the additivity hypothesis in the social psychological literature on dual-process persuasion models, a cue-cumulation effect can be proposed. Alternatively, a source primacy effect can be proposed by loosely adapting the sufficiency principle based on the notion that online users are cognitive misers. To explore these theoretical propositions, the following research question was formed.
A large 2 × 3 × 6 within-subjects online experiment (N = 523) systematically varied two levels of the source credibility cue, three levels of the upload recency cue and six levels of the number-of-related-articles cue in an effort to investigate their effects upon perceived message credibility, newsworthiness, and likelihood of clicking on the news lead. Participants were recruited from undergraduate classes at three different universities, one each in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands and the study was conducted online. Participants consenting to take part in the study were first led to a News website which showed a menu of news leads with hyperlinks to full stories as shown in Figure-1.
In summary, source credibility emerges as a powerful cue affecting participants’ perception of message credibility. In general, high source-credibility tends to over-ride considerations of recency and number of related articles in dictating one’s perceptions of message credibility. However, when the source credibility is low, these other cues become important in their contributions to our judgment of message credibility. The other consistent finding is that the NRA cue has a clearly bipolar effect pattern, with the extremes (i.e., very few and very large numbers of related articles—single digits and 900+) contributing to higher estimations of message credibility, newsworthiness, and click-likelihood than the intermediate conditions. Upload recency as a cue does not appear to have much of an effect on the perceptions measured in this study.
For more details regarding the study contact
Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (814) 865-2173