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Resolving the Paradox of the Active User: Stable Suboptimal Performance in Interactive Tasks

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This paper brings the intellectual tools of cognitive science to bear on resolving the paradox of the active user Interfacing Thought Cognitive Aspects of Human Computer Interaction, Cambridge, MIT Press, MA, USA the persistent use of inefficient procedures in interactive tasks by experienced or even expert users when demonstrably more efficient procedures exist. The goal of this paper is to understand the roots of this paradox by finding regularities in these inefficient procedures. We examine three very different data sets. For each data set, we first satisfy ourselves that the preferred procedures used by some subjects are indeed less efficient than the recommended procedures. We then amass evidence, for each set, and conclude that when a preferred procedure is used instead of a more efficient, recommended procedure, the preferred procedure tends to have two major characteristics 1 the preferred procedure is a well-practiced, generic procedure that is applicable either within the same task environment in different contexts or across different task environments, and 2 the preferred procedure is composed of interactive components that bring fast, incremental feedback on the external problem states. The support amassed for these characteristics leads to a new understanding of the paradox. In interactive tasks, people are biased towards the use of general procedures that start with interactive actions. These actions require much less cognitive effort as each action results in an immediate change to the external display that, in turn, cues the next action. Unfortunately for the users, the bias to use interactive unit tasks leads to a path that requires more effort in the long run. Our data suggest that interactive behavior is composed of a series of distributed choices that is, people seldom make a once-and-for-all decision on procedures. This series of biased selection of interactive unit tasks often leads to a stable suboptimal level of performance.

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  • Computer Systems Management and Standards

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