Designing an information search interface for younger and older adults

Hum Factors. 2008 Aug;50(4):614-28. doi: 10.1518/001872008X312314.


Objective: The present study examined Web-based information retrieval as a function of age for two information organization schemes: hierarchical organization and one organized around tags or keywords.

Background: Older adults' performance in information retrieval tasks has traditionally been lower compared with younger adults'. The current study examined the degree to which information organization moderated age-related performance differences on an information retrieval task. The theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence may provide insight into different kinds of information architectures that may reduce age-related differences in computer-based information retrieval performance.

Method: Fifty younger (18-23 years of age) and 50 older (55-76 years of age) participants browsed a Web site for answers to specific questions. Half of the participants browsed the hierarchically organized system (taxonomy), which maintained a one-to-one relationship between menu link and page, whereas the other half browsed the tag-based interface, with a many-to-one relationship between menu and page. This difference was expected to interact with age-related differences in fluid and crystallized intelligence.

Results: Age-related differences in information retrieval performance persisted; however, a tag-based retrieval interface reduced age-related differences, as compared with a taxonomical interface.

Conclusion: Cognitive aging theory can lead to interface interventions that reduce age-related differences in performance with technology. In an information retrieval paradigm, older adults may be able to leverage their increased crystallized intelligence to offset fluid intelligence declines in a computer-based information search task.

Application: More research is necessary, but the results suggest that information retrieval interfaces organized around keywords may reduce age-related differences in performance.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • User-Computer Interface*