This study identified cognitive styles of online searchers in terms of Field Dependence (FD) and Field Independence (FI) dimension and determined whether searching performance was affected by FD / FI cognitive differences between online searchers and the extent to which searching performance was affected by the FD / FI dimension of cognitive style. This study used a quasi experimental design with 41 student subjects using the Lockheed DIALOG system and ERIC ONT AP database. Cognitive styles of student subjects were measured by using GEFT (Group Embedded Figure Test) and the subjects were divided into two cognitive groups- FD and FI based on the GEFT scores. Each subject was assigned two predetermined searches which had different search goals-a 'high precision search' and a 'high recall search.' Search performance of the two cognitive groups on the two problems was compared in order to see how these two groups responded to achieving different search goals in terms of search strategy, search inputs, and resulting search outputs. The major findings of this study were: 1. The pattern of approaching a search problem regardless of whether it was a high precision search or a high recall search was not significantly different between the two cognitive groups. 2. The FI group tended to use significantly more terms for the high recall search than the FD group but slightly less time than the FD group. However, significant differences in connect time between the two groups were not revealed. 3. For both search problems the FI group achieved a significantly higher success rate than the FD group. The FI group were significantly more successful searchers than the FD group. As for unit / cost, although the FI group were more cost effective than those of the FD group for both searches, these differences were too small to be statistically significant. 4. Mean differences of the search performance variables between the FD / FI groups were consistent across the two types of search questions. The FI group seemed to be equally effective for both types of search questions. In conclusion, the differences found in number of terms used and success rate between the two cognitive groups apparently resulted from different cognitive styles.
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