Over the last decades, the World Wide Web has dramatically evolved by providing more and more multimedia content such as pictures, videos and animations. Although at the same time online newspapers have become the first source of information for most people (Reuters, 2013), only few studies have addressed the impact of these changes in the particular context of online news. Some research have shown that the presence of pictures in news stories would improve information retention whereas animations could increase cognitive burden and lead to a drop in performance (e.g. Zhang, 2000). However, hardly any measures of cognitive load have been provided to support these assumptions. By using the Cognitive Load Theory framework, the present study aims to investigate how the presence of multimedia features impact users’ cognitive load and information retention from online news. MethodThree versions of an online newspaper were developed in order to vary the type of content presented: text only; text and pictures; text, pictures and animations. 92 participants were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions. They were asked to read three news stories, before answering recall and recognition questions about the content of the articles. Intrinsic, extraneous and germane cognitive load were subjectively assessed by a scale adapted from Leppink et al. (2013). In a second experiment, the same design was replicated strictly with 36 other participants for collecting eye-tracking data in order to provide objective measures of cognitive load. ResultsA MANOVA performed on the recall/recognition scores for each articles yielded a significant main effect of website version (Wilk’s λ = .863, F (6,170) = 2.167, p <.05). The text and pictures version had produced a better score (M = .65, σ = .04) than text-only (M = .50, σ = .03) or text, pictures and animations versions (M = .52, σ = .03). Although there were no significant differences among the three versions, the observed correlations between each type of load supported our assumptions. The extraneous load was higher with the version including disturbing animations and was strongly negatively correlated with germane load. Eye-tracking data showed that animations indeed attracted users’ attention; this could explain the extraneous load increase and the decrease in performance. Analysis of fixation duration, velocity and distance of saccade, as well as mean pupil diameter, showed interesting results regarding the objective measures of each type of cognitive load. ConclusionThe results of this study emphasize that the presence of multimedia content influences the amount of information that users retain after they read online newspapers. The presence of images related to the content of the article improves information retention, while the addition of irrelevant animations leads to a decreased performance. In addition, this study highlights that Cognitive Load Theory can be successfully used to explain users’ interactions with hypermedia, such as online newspapers.info:eu-repo/semantics/publishe
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