Dissertations & Theses (Open Access)

Graduation Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

School Name

The University of Texas School of Biomedical Informatics at Houston

Advisory Committee

Dr. Elmer Bernstam


This dissertation explores the implications of computational cognitive modeling for information retrieval. The parallel between information retrieval and human memory is that the goal of an information retrieval system is to find the set of documents most relevant to the query whereas the goal for the human memory system is to access the relevance of items stored in memory given a memory probe (Steyvers & Griffiths, 2010).

The two major topics of this dissertation are desirability and information scent. Desirability is the context independent probability of an item receiving attention (Recker & Pitkow, 1996). Desirability has been widely utilized in numerous experiments to model the probability that a given memory item would be retrieved (Anderson, 2007). Information scent is a context dependent measure defined as the utility of an information item (Pirolli & Card, 1996b). Information scent has been widely utilized to predict the memory item that would be retrieved given a probe (Anderson, 2007) and to predict the browsing behavior of humans (Pirolli & Card, 1996b).

In this dissertation, I proposed the theory that desirability observed in human memory is caused by preferential attachment in networks. Additionally, I showed that documents accessed in large repositories mirror the observed statistical properties in human memory and that these properties can be used to improve document ranking. Finally, I showed that the combination of information scent and desirability improves document ranking over existing well-established approaches.


Information seeking, click stream data, ACT-R, information foraging, information scent