Very belatedly I am catching up with the last two reports from the the i3 conference held in Aberdeen in June. Dr Kendra Albright (University of South Carolina) gave the last keynote speech Multidisciplinarity in Information Behaviour: Expanding Boundaries or Fragmentation of the Field? (that is a link to the presentation). I will pick out some points that I found particularly interesting.
Referring to the legal, emotional and safety needs of abused women, she talked about information seeking as a coping strategy; the process of answering their needs helping them to cope.
Kendra talked about the brain functions involved in decision making, or wrestling with emotional issues - and how most decisions get based on emotional elements. Thus she wondered whether some concepts from psychology can help us with understanding information behaviours (IB). Models of IB have tended to be limited, with a lack of focus on use, and looking at individuals rather than the socio-political context.
Kendra emphasised the interconnection between cognition and emotion, by referring to the physical construction of the brain. Turning to psychology, she characterised a cognitive science approach that focuses on language and thought as neglecting emotion. In contrast, pyschoanalysis aims to "bring about change in emotion and thought" and is interpretative (rather than focusing on explanatory theories). There is an move towards integrating these two views. This carries through to research methods: quantitative methods do not seem sufficient to investigate all these areas and interviews also may not be the only way to gather qualitative data. Kendra talked about Rorschach tests (ink blots), pointing out is is not a "quick reaction" method, but involves getting the patient to discuss their interpretation, and observe physical reactions etc.
She presented some research identfying that afective attitudes are stronger pedictors of decision making than cognitive issues: we might think we are making "logical" decisions but emotions may well be affect them. We should bear this in mind when approaching IB research, and she mentioned Diane Nahl's work which links IB and affect (Diane gave a talk about this as part of my Second Life discussion series).
Transferring to her own work, she talked about how information may contribute to the decline of HIV/AIDS, but "linking HIV information with mortality could deter people from either actively seeking or passively assimilating information that could save their lives". Focusing on death may not be the most productive thing: young people may feel this doesn't impact them, and it associates the information with negative emotions. Repackaging the information in an emotionally intelligent way is better.
As this discussion illustrates, we need to use knowledge from more than one discipline, also, to answer questions such as: How does, say, health information change human behaviour? Possibly fragmenting our field by looking across disciplines was a "risk worth taking" in her view: the "Neccessity of transdisciplinarity".
Photo by Sheila Webber: Sheffield bus station, July 2009