Effects of semantic relatedness on selection in pull-down menus

Jong Myong Choi, Patrick Patterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As interfaces become more sophisticated, there is a need to develop design methods that will assure users can locate needed information quickly and accurately. Selecting the correct text label to perform an action, using information retrieval from long-term memory, is an important consideration for interface design. A psychological theory, the spreading activation model, is used to explain information searching behavior during menu selection tasks. Two experiments were performed to examine how a user searches for semantically related targets, menu headers, and target items. In the first experiment, the degree of relatedness between two text labels in the menu was evaluated. The semantic distance for related information was correlated with total selection time (r2=0.751) and error rate (r2=0.740). Response time during the spreading activation test also showed a correlation with error rate (r2=0.736) in menu selection. Target item information depended on location and number of menu items scanned, while menu header information was dependent on the use of memory, thus incurring a significant cognitive load. Semantic relationships among text information were found to play an important role in fast and accurate menu item selection. In this study, user time in considering these relationships was measured by completing menu selection tasks based on results from the spreading activation analysis.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiomedical Sciences Instrumentation
StatePublished - 2010


  • Menu structure
  • Spreading activation
  • Visual interface


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