Heinström, Jannica Fast surfers, broad scanners and deep divers. Personality and information-seeking behaviour. Turku (Åbo): Åbo Akademi University Press, 2002. ISBN 951-765-108-2 (Ph.D. dissertation)
Information seeking behaviour has been studied in several contexts over recent decades. While a number of factors associated with information behaviour have been found, there are several areas only partly researched. In addition, the results of many studies based on few observations, still remain to be confirmed. In her dissertation Heinström sets out to clarify the role and importance of personality factors and learning style for information seeking behaviour. This is not an easy task, but the author manages to show evidence for how such factors can influence information behaviour. This study of 305 Finnish Master's degree students during their thesis-writing research is a bold and inspiring enterprise. Heinström in her study tries to handle several factors and their combined relationship to information seeking behaviour in a wide sense. This is done through qualified use of advanced methods, and this, together with the focus on influencing factors, makes the study different from many other recent studies in this field.
The research questions for this study focus especially on the relationship between information-seeking behaviour, personality and approach to studying. In addition, discipline and stages in the research process, as well as study performance, are included in the empirical study.
A large portion of the study gives a comprehensive overview of earlier research. Here the author brings together most of the knowledge about factors influencing information behaviour in a well-written manner. The importance of tasks, situation and different disciplinary tradition in information-seeking have been stressed by several authors in the field. Earlier work by Wilson, Dervin, Taylor, Ellis and his co-workers, Limberg, Hjorland and others forms a point of departure for a thorough review of previous work. Also, the emotional aspects involved (and previously explored by Kuhlthau) are noted. The author notes that in recent years the impact of learning style and coping has been added in recent models, for example by Wilson. The impact of differences in learning styles on information behaviour have also been demonstrated by Logan, Wood et al. and others. Research on personality and learning styles is summarized more in detail.
The aspects of information behaviour covered in the study are; relevance judgements, document selection criteria, thoroughness in information seeking, critical information judgement, search strategies, use of information sources and the extent of effort invested in seeking for information.
In contrast to much research in this field during the last two decades, the empirical study brings together many concepts and variables, a task which may not have been possible without a quantitative approach. This could also explain why the method chosen is not accompanied by any extensive account of the philosophical position of the author. One reason for the chosen approach is that the study sets out to find and estimate the influence of a number of factors on information seeking behaviour - not just describing or categorizing a few of these. Another reason is the problem of interrelations among different factors and the complexity involved in some of the concepts used. In order to be able to catch personality traits she uses the five factor model, which includes items to indicate neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness (Costa & McCrae's NEO Five-Factor Inventory). Approaches to studying were measured by Tait, Entwistle & McCune's ASSIST test. Finally information-seeking behaviour was studied by a questionnaire devised by the author.
The analysis of all this could be a very time-consuming enterprise. However the author seems to have chosen an efficient way through the material. Several forms of statistical analysis are employed. Besides tables and correlation analysis a Bourdieu-inspired correspondence analysis describes the pattern of personality traits and faculty positions. Several regression analyses as well as factor analysis are also employed as tools supporting the analysis and interpretation.
The main finding of the study was three quite different patterns of information behaviour and attitudes towards seeking, revealed by factor analysis. These are called Fast surfers, Broad scanners the Deep divers. The fast surfers skim the surface of the information wave, wanting information easily. Among these also a surface approach to studying is more common. Lack of motivation or real interest seems to be related to this approach, and problems with relevance judgement and time pressure are perceived more often.
The Broad scanners are open to new information, extravert and spontaneous but also competitive in their orientation. This also increases the probability of accidental information discovery. The Broad scanners were oriented towards seeking activity but less oriented to depth in the information content.
The third category the Deep divers had an opposite attitude to the fast surfers. They dive deeply into the information flow and go for depth and quality in choosing information sources. This approach to information seeking and use was also related to a deep study approach.
The results clearly indicate that learning style and personality can influence both information seeking behaviour and study results. This is specified in a large number of findings. However the results also indicate that personality and approach to studying interact in their influence on information-seeking behaviour in different ways depending on which aspects of the behaviour we focus on.
This study demonstrates that psychological mechanisms other than cognitive differences or feelings may be connected to information-seeking behaviour. It also indicates that this is a complex relationship, where different combinations of traits work differently on different aspects of the information-seeking behaviour.
A clear limitation is of course that this study was done in one specific context with Master's degree students. In spite of the many variables involved we must also assume that information seeking behaviour is even more complex. Very few alternative explanations were included in the empirical analysis, even if they were mentioned in the extensive review of earlier research. With this limitation mentioned it must be said again that this is a very interesting and inspiring study with important findings. It should be read by the research community in this area and used as a basis for further research in this line involving other groups as well as different research approaches - both quantitative and qualitative.
Professor Lars Höglund
How to cite this review
Höglund, L. (2003) Review of: Heinström, Jannica. Fast surfers, broad scanners and deep divers. Personality and information-seeking behaviour. Turku (Åbo): Åbo Akademi University Press, 2002 Information Research, 8(2), review no. 079 [Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs079.html]