The Principle of Least Effort, is probably the most solid result in all of information-seeking research. Specifically, we have found that people invest little in seeking information, preferring easy-to-use, accessible sources to sources of known high quality that are less easy to use and/or less accessible.
Ease of use and accessibility of information seem to be more important to people than quality of information. But what is the explanation for this phenomenon? Why are people unwilling to invest that little bit of extra energy in order to get information that they themselves would acknowledge is of better quality?
1) People “satisfice” in all realms of life, including information seeking. The idea of satisficing comes from Simon (1976), who argued that in decision-making, people make a good enough decision to meet their needs, and do not necessarily consider all possible, or knowable, options. Translated to the language of LIS, for example, using Dervin’s concept of “Sense-Making” (Dervin, 1983, 1999), we could hypothesize that people make sense of their situations based on what they know and can learn easily. Their Sense-Making need only be adequate to continue with life; it does not need to be so perfect or extensive as to enable them to make sense of everything.
2) People underestimate the value of what they do not know, and over-estimate the value of what they do know. People have difficulty imagining what the new information would be that they do not know, while what they do know is vivid and real to them. Consequently, they under-invest in information seeking. See Gilovich, Griffin, & Kahneman (2002) and Kahneman & Tversky (2000) for work on distortions in decision-making and choice.
3) Gaining new knowledge may be emotionally threatening in some cases. Gregory Bateson once described what he called “value-seeking” and “information-seeking” (Ruesch &. Bateson, 1968, pp. 178-I79). In value, seeking, a person has an idea in mind of something that he or she wants. Suppose one wants some eggs and. toast to eat, for example. One then goes out into the world, does various things involving chickens, grain, cooking, and baking, with the end. result that one has a breakfast of eggs and toast. Thus, one has done things to parts of the world in order to make the world match the plan one has in mind. In information seeking, on the other hand, according to Bateson, the directionality is reversed; one acquires information from the world in order to impress it on one’s own mind.
However, new knowledge can always bring surprises, sometimes uncomfortable ones. If “we are what we know,” if our sense of self is based, in part, on our body of knowledge of the world, then to change that knowledge may be threatening to our sense of self.
4) Information is not tangible, and objects are. Intangible things seem less real to us, therefore less valuable. Consequently, we invest more in acquiring tangible than intangible things.
Each hypothesis above is not a complete explanation … For instance, Simon’s satisficing may be, in effect, another name for Zipf’s Principle of Least Effort (1949). Poole (I985) believed his results fit well with Zipf’s earlier work. Zipf had a more extensively conceptualized understanding of least effort, one that constitutes a preliminary explanation, i.e., theory, and which contributes to a better understand_ ing of least effort than we usually articulate in LIS. To Zipf, according to Poole, least effort was technically the “least average rate of probable work” (Poole, 1985, p. 90). That is, people do not just minimize current work associated with some activity, because they could eventually do a total of much more work in the end. Rather, they make a considered estimate of all likely work associated with a given effort, now and in the future, and do the amount of work now that they estimate will best reduce their overall effort, now and later combined (Poole, 1985).
“Principle of Least Effort” has been so widely observed that we were able to make confident predictions about where else it might appear as well. But we still had no explanation, no theory as to why this phenomenon occurs (except possibly in Zipf’s original research, 1949). We hypothesized four possible explanations, and considered ways in which these theories could be tested. Testing might then lead to further tentative theories that would explain this phenomenon still more deeply.
(Fisher, 2005, s. 4ff)