Does Animation Attract Online Users' Attention? The Effects of Flash on Information Search Performance and Perceptions

Information Systems Research, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 60-86, 2004

27 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2007

See all articles by Weiyin Hong

Weiyin Hong

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

James Y.L. Thong

HKUST Business School

Kar Yan Tam

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Abstract

The proliferation of information on the Internet poses a significant challenge on humans' limited attentional resources. To attract online users' attention, various kinds of animation are widely used on websites. Despite the ubiquitous use of animation, there is an inadequate understanding of its effect on attention. Focusing on flash animation, this study examines its effects on online users' performance and perceptions in both taskrelevant and task-irrelevant information search contexts by drawing on the visual search literature and two theories from cognitive psychology. In the task-relevant context, flash is applied on the search target; while in the task-irrelevant context, flash is applied on a nontarget item. The results of this study confirm that flash does attract users' attention and facilitates quicker location of the flashed target item in tightly packed screen displays. However, there is no evidence that attracting attention increases recall of the flashed item, as is generally presumed in practice, and may even decrease the overall recall. One explanation is that when users have to use their limited attentional resources on suppressing the distraction of flash, they will have less mental resources to process information. Moreover, the results suggest that processing information about an item depends not only on the attention it attracts per se, but also on the attention that other items on the same screen attract. While flashing an item may not increase the recall of that item, it can reduce the recall of other items (especially the nontarget items) on the screen. Finally, flash has negative effects on users' focused attention and attitude towards using the website. These results have implications for website interface design, online product promotion, online advertising, and multimedia training systems, among others.

Keywords: flash animation, attention, online information search, visual search, central capacity theory, associative network model, laboratory experiment, website interface design

Suggested Citation

Hong, Weiyin and Thong, James Y.L. and Tam, Kar Yan, Does Animation Attract Online Users' Attention? The Effects of Flash on Information Search Performance and Perceptions. Information Systems Research, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 60-86, 2004, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1003585

Weiyin Hong

University of Nevada, Las Vegas ( email )

4505 S. Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

James Y.L. Thong (Contact Author)

HKUST Business School ( email )

Clear Water Bay
Kowloon
Hong Kong

HOME PAGE: http://jthong.people.ust.hk/

Kar Yan Tam

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology ( email )

Clear Water Bay, Kowloon
Hong Kong

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