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Back vs. stack: training the correct mental model affects web browsing

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This study explored the issue of how web users understand how the back button works on a standard web browser. Sixty participants were divided into two groups: those who were taught the correct mental model (stack-based) vs. those who did not receive any mental model information. The participants were then given a scenario-based task in which they were required to predict which pages would be available with a back button and those which would not be. The participants were then required to perform a standardised web browsing task and the amount of page traverses and back button usages were measured. Results showed that there were significantly fewer page traverses as a result of the mental model condition, suggesting a more efficient web page browsing resulted from the mental model training. In addition, there were surprisingly very few incorrect usages of the back button, possibly due to floor effects caused by demand characteristics. These data suggest that there is clearly an effect on web browsing navigation as a function of being taught the correct mental model.
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Keywords: Back buttons; Mental models; Navigation; Web browsing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Social Sciences and Law, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK 2: Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, UK

Publication date: 01 May 2008

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