Analyzing the emotional outcomes of the online search behavior with search engines

The University of Zaragoza has recently published a study  that looks into the emotional outcomes of the online information search behaviour.

"The study analyzes the emotional outcomes of the online search process, taking into account the user’s:

(a) perceptions of success and effort exerted on the search process, 

(b) initial affective state,and

(c) emotions felt during the search process.

The affective component has been acknowledged as critical to understand information search behavior and user–computer interactions. There is a lack of studies that analyze the emotions that the user feels when searching for information about products with search engines. In addition, the authors identify profiles of online searchers based on the emotional outcomes of the search process, which allows them to differentiate the emotional processes and behavioral patterns that lead to such emotions. The results of the study stress the importance of the affective component of the online search behavior, given that these emotional outcomes are likely to influence all the subsequent actions that users perform on the Web.


In summary, the results of the analyses indicate that the perceived effort exerted on a search task has a positive impact on the positive emotions experienced after the search process, whereas it has no impact on the negative emotions.

When users find the information they have been looking for (or at least they perceive so), they tend to value positively the effort they put for its attainment, albeit such effort has been relatively low. Furthermore, online users can value positively the effort exerted on a search process because they acquire knowledge and experience for future search episodes.

In addition, the dimension of uncertainty that entails every information search seems to take place also in the online context, given the existence of related emotions during the search experience (i.e., hope and distress). More concretely, hope has been found to influence all the positive emotions after the search process. 

Specific negative emotional outcomes of the search task, generated primarily by a perceived failure in the process, might be influenced by different initial affective states and emotions during the search activity. Feelings of regret and frustration could arise when the users feel positive and encouraged to find the information but they are ill at ease during the search process and fail to get it.  Furthermore, our findings show that dislike, an emotion that is appraised as being caused by external sources and arises when the user feels low control over the situation is a common feeling for the generation of post-search negative emotions.

Another interesting finding reported in this study is that surprise, a bivalence emotion characterized by a dimension of unexpectedness could have negative effects when searching for information online. If online users are surprised when they are searching for specific information and don’t succeed in finding it, such surprising events are likely to trigger feelings of disgust and anger".