Search process as transitions between neural states

Moshfeghi, Yashar and Pollick, Frank E.; (2018) Search process as transitions between neural states. In: Proceedings of the 2018 World Wide Web Conference. ACM, FRA, pp. 1683-1692. ISBN 9781450356398 (

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Search is one of the most performed activities on the World Wide Web. Various conceptual models postulate that the search process can be broken down into distinct emotional and cognitive states of searchers while they engage in a search process. These models significantly contribute to our understanding of the search process. However, they are typically based on self-report measures, such as surveys, questionnaire, etc. and therefore, only indirectly monitor the brain activity that supports such a process. With this work, we take one step further and directly measure the brain activity involved in a search process. To do so, we break down a search process into five time periods: a realisation of Information Need, Query Formulation, Query Submission, Relevance Judgment and Satisfaction Judgment. We then investigate the brain activity between these time periods. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), we monitored the brain activity of twenty-four participants during a search process that involved answering questions carefully selected from the TREC-8 and TREC 2001 Q/A Tracks. This novel analysis that focuses on transitions rather than states reveals the contrasting brain activity between time periods – which enables the identification of the distinct parts of the search process as the user moves through them. This work, therefore, provides an important first step in representing the search process based on the transitions between neural states. Discovering more precisely how brain activity relates to different parts of the search process will enable the development of brain-computer interactions that better support search and search interactions, which we believe our study and conclusions advance.