Navigating through digital folders uses the same brain structures as real world navigation

Yael Benn, Ofer Bergman, Liv Glazer, Paris Arent, Iain D. Wilkinson, Rosemary Varley, Steve Whittaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations

Abstract

Efficient storage and retrieval of digital data is the focus of much commercial and academic attention. With personal computers, there are two main ways to retrieve files: hierarchical navigation and query-based search. In navigation, users move down their virtual folder hierarchy until they reach the folder in which the target item is stored. When searching, users first generate a query specifying some property of the target file (e.g., a word it contains), and then select the relevant file when the search engine returns a set of results. Despite advances in search technology, users prefer retrieving files using virtual folder navigation, rather than the more flexible query-based search. Using fMRI we provide an explanation for this phenomenon by demonstrating that folder navigation results in activation of the posterior limbic (including the retrosplenial cortex) and parahippocampal regions similar to that previously observed during real-world navigation in both animals and humans. In contrast, search activates the left inferior frontal gyrus, commonly observed in linguistic processing. We suggest that the preference for navigation may be due to the triggering of automatic object finding routines and lower dependence on linguistic processing. We conclude with suggestions for future computer systems design.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14719
JournalScientific Reports
Volume5
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Tom Benn for programming the paradigm, Mr. José García and Prof. Anthony Barker for technical advice and support, Ms. Kate Bibbings for supporting data collection, Eran Apelbaum for creating Fig. 2, the staff of the University of Sheffield MR Unit for their radiographic skills, and the Wellcome Trust for funding the purchase of the 3T MR scanner. Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker were supported by a Google Faculty Research Award.

Funding

We would like to thank Tom Benn for programming the paradigm, Mr. José García and Prof. Anthony Barker for technical advice and support, Ms. Kate Bibbings for supporting data collection, Eran Apelbaum for creating Fig. 2, the staff of the University of Sheffield MR Unit for their radiographic skills, and the Wellcome Trust for funding the purchase of the 3T MR scanner. Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker were supported by a Google Faculty Research Award.

FundersFunder number
Google
Wellcome Trust

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