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The paradox of the assisted user: guidance can be counterproductive

van Nimwegen, C. C., Burgos, D. D., van Oostendorp, H. H., & Schijf, H. H. (2006, April). The paradox of the assisted user: guidance can be counterproductive. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (pp. 917-926). ACM.


This paper investigates the influence of interface styles on problem solving performance. It is often assumed that performance on problem solving tasks improves when users are assisted by externalizing task-related information on the interface. Although externalization requires less recall and relieves working memory, it does not instigate planning, understanding and knowledge acquisition. Without this assistance, task-information must be internalized, stored in the user’s memory, leading to more planning and thinking and perhaps to better performance and knowledge. Another variable that can influence behavior is “Need for Cognition” (NFC), the tendency to engage in effortful cognitive tasks. We investigated the effects of interface style and cognitive style on performance using a conference planning application. Interface style influenced behavior and performance, but NFC did not. The internalization interface led to more planful behavior and smarter solutions. When planning and learning are the aim, designers should thus beware of giving a user (too) much assistance. Understanding how people react to interface information can be crucial in designing effective software, especially important in the areas of education and learning.