Why Do Users Issue Good Queries? Neural Correlates of Term Specificity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


Despite advances in the past few decades in studying what kind of queries users input to search engines and how to suggest queries for the users, the fundamental question of what makes human cognition able to estimate goodness of query terms is largely unanswered. For example, a person searching information about "cats" is able to choose query terms, such as "housecat", "feline", or "animal" and avoid terms like "similar", "variety", and "distinguish". We investigated the association between the specificity of terms occurring in documents and human brain activity measured via electroencephalography (EEG). We analyzed the brain activity data of fifteen participants, recorded in response to reading terms from Wikipedia documents. Term specificity was shown to be associated with the amplitude of evoked brain responses. The results indicate that by being able to determine which terms carry maximal information about, and can best discriminate between, documents, people have the capability to enter good query terms. Moreover, our results suggest that the effective query term selection process, often observed in practical search behavior studies, has a neural basis. We believe our findings constitute an important step in revealing the cognitive processing behind query formulation and evaluating informativeness of language in general.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 42Nd International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval
Number of pages10
Place of PublicationNew York, NY, USA
PublisherACM, Association for Computing Machinery
Publication date2020
ISBN (Print)978-1-4503-6172-9
Publication statusPublished - 2020
MoE publication typeA4 Article in conference proceedings
Event42nd International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval - Paris, France
Duration: 21 Jul 201925 Jul 2019
Conference number: 42

Publication series

NameProceedings of SIGIR

Fields of Science

  • human neurophysiology
  • neural correlates
  • term specificity
  • 113 Computer and information sciences

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