Cognitive Foundations of Search

Posted: 29 Jan 2021

Date Written: November 6, 2020


The purpose of information systems is to help people find information to meet their task goals. Understanding the user’s capacities to interact with a search system can inform all aspects of information system design. The future of search is intelligent and cooperative. Systems will need to engage the user as more than a mere query-generation engine. Next generation search system design will benefit from understanding the cognitive processes that drive interactive information retrieval.

This workshop is an introduction to human cognitive processes from the perspective of information search. Starting with the human memory system and knowledge, the participant will learn about the human attention allocation system, and the stages of information processing from low-level recognition to acquiring meaning. Then, higher level interaction processes will be examined, including cognitive constraints on problem solving and decision processes. Finally, meta-cognitive processes including ’feeling of knowing’ and sense of completeness will be discussed.

The workshop will connect material from neurobiology, cognitive science, AI, information science, and philosophy of mind. Everything is organized around human information retrieval and processing, so participants will be able to apply this cognitive perspective to their interests and challenges. The goal of the workshop is to introduce and connect current understanding of human cognitive processes in the context of interactive information retrieval. A collection of resources for deeper investigation will be provided.

There will be little math and scientific nomenclature will be minimized in favor of a focus on the cognitive processes involved in search. Examples and illustrations will be drawn from legal search, but the practical comments will apply to any interactive information service.


Three 50 min sessions (10 min breaks)


• Human Memory System

• Concepts and Knowledge - The shiny beasts of thought.

• Attention allocation - The two systems of human attention: reactive and goal-directed.

Search interaction

• Recognition and information processing - Especially text information acquired by the vision system

• Decision making under uncertainty - Satisficing, problem (re)representation

• Sessions, tasks, and goals - Intention, attention, and action to an end. Context, centering and coherence.

Higher order processes

• Meta-cognitive processes - Tip of the tongue (TOT), Feeling of knowing (FOK), time duration, self-monitoring in search processes

• Cognitive penetrability - How deeply can humans introspect on their interaction processes?

• Trust formation

Who may be interested? Those with interest in product development, customer discovery, customer service, search engineering, UI/UX, and related research and development.

Duration: A packed 3 hours.

Suggested Citation

Cole, Michael, Cognitive Foundations of Search (November 6, 2020). Proceedings of the 4th Annual RELX Search Summit, Available at SSRN:

Michael Cole (Contact Author)

LexisNexis ( email )

P. O. Box 933
Dayton, OH 45401
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics