published quarterly by the University of Borås, Sweden

vol. 24 no. 1, March, 2019

Proceedings of ISIC: The Information Behaviour Conference, Krakow, Poland, 9-11 October, 2018: Part 2.

Emotions, experience, identity – motivations of the teens’ information behaviour in the area of culture

Małgorzata Kisilowska and Anna Mierzecka

Introduction.Young users reveal specific information behaviour towards cultural collections, focusing primarily not on information, but on affective and relation-building aspects of the content. That imposes a question concerning actual character of the youth's goals and needs towards this specific type of information resources.
Method.The research was conducted according to the phenomenological paradigm, with inductive qualitative methodology. The study including two focus group interviews, together with an information searching task, was conducted in December 2016 – January 2017.
Analysis. Data were analysed from various interdisciplinary perspectives, including affective aspects of information behaviour models, studies on youth motivations of cultural activities, and the relational theory of culture.
Results. Emotions, experiences, and potential of interactivity were found to be decisive features of cultural content, attracting attention of young users. This can significantly change their ways of cultural information searching, focusing their needs on emotions, experiences and mediators rather than a topic, title, or performer.
Conclusion. Affective needs of young users can bee a basis for developing a preliminary model of information behaviour in the area of culture, including not only typical elements of information searching, but also those being sought by the youth, like emotions, values, and identity.


Research projects on information behaviour concern different aspects of human activities. In our project we analysed information behaviour as an element of participation in culture. Activities of the youth were of particular interest for us, because their participation in culture is often emotional and strongly linked to the process of identity building. This changes the perspective of information searching analysis, as the emotion being experienced when engaging with cultural content is often as important as information itself. Today there are many excellent examples of cultural content in the public domain, being offered by specific public institutions on national, regional or international levels. Omc;idomg  Europeana and  the Wikimedia Commons. There are also institutions with at least part of their activities dedicated to digitalization and provision of cultural materials, like theatre performances, music concerts, films, broadcasts, TV shows, interviews, etc. The National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute (NFA-AI) in Poland (National…, 2018) is one of them, with a huge and constantly developed collection of cultural recordings of different kinds being offered for users. Our project explored the patterns of NFA-AI cultural collections' usage by the youth, and analysed their information behaviour. A qualitative study (focus group interviews, accompanied by an information searching task) was conducted in December 2016 – January 2017. A broad research perspective enabled exploration not only of information searching within the NFA-AI collections, but also in other cultural resources. As a result, we identified factors of key importance for information behaviour within the area of culture and reception of cultural content. We also developed a preliminary model of information behaviour in this specific context.

Literature review

The following aspects of information behaviour theories should be mentioned in regard to the specific choices of the young respondents attending the project being discussed: the role of emotions in information searching, the role of music in youth life and interpersonal relationships, and the relational theory of culture coming from social sciences.

Emotions have become an integral part of information science for decades, however researchers have focused on the affective aspect of the searching process itself, not information usage, the emotional qualities of the information, nor the content being searched. The most comprehensive representation of the affective perspective can be found in the Kuhlthau model of information searching (1988; 2004). As the time passes and users change, the need for in-depth exploration of emotions’ role in information searching increases (Savolainen, 2015). Authors focus on particular stages of the process, starting for example with the motivational effect of emotions (Savolainen, 2014), referring specifically to the information searching context (Savolainen, 2005), or gathering biometric data to analyse emotions accompanying the process. Other authors in this area include Lopatovska (2009), as well as Arapakis, Jose and Gray (2008), who discussed affect during information searching, and theories and methods supporting this research trend (Lopatovska and Arapakis, 2011). Lopatovska also offered a model of emotions and mood in the online information searching process (2014).

Other perspectives exploring teens’ selection and usage of cultural content iare psychology and musicology. Researchers in this field have been interested in the motives and benefits of youth activitieswhen listening to music, and attending music festivals in particular. Packer and Ballantyne (2011) focused on the role of participation in music events for young people. They designed a model of the music festival experience, including its social and music aspects, with music as a common ground facilitating connections between participants, and the festival as a separation from everyday life. They also confirmed psychological benefits (related to identity and self-acceptance) and social well-being (perceived as positive relations with others) of the attendees as the outcomes of a festival. The need of being there, and sharing music experiences with the others, was also found a main stimulus motivating people to participate in pop music festivals, as found by Brown and Knox (2017), followed by demonstrating fans’ engagement, hearing novel, live music, and watching support bands.

The relation between the use of music by the youth and their well-being was also analysed by

Papinczak, Dingle, Stoyanov, Hides and Zelenko (2015) in a qualitative study based on focus group interviews. They revealed four types of connections between music listening and well-being, namely: relationship building (sharing music or attending concerts), modifying cognitions (supporting concentration and problem solving, evoking memories), modifying emotions (distraction, changing arousal levels), and emotional immersion (Papinczak et al., 2015, p. 1123).

Clarke, DeNora and Vuoskoski (2015) offered an in-depth literature review of interdisciplinary research (including neurosciences, social and cultural sciences, musicology) concerning music influence on empathy, social and cultural understanding. They also developed a complex model joining primary components of music and empathy research into a single framework. The model includes (among other aspexts) affective competence of a listener, however it is not directly related to the feelings being evoked by listening to a particular piece of music, but to an emphatic disposition in general (an action tendency).

Ter Bogt, Vieno, Doornwaard, Pastore and van den Eijnden (2017) were trying to uncover music attributes influencing its consoling, positive influence on young listeners. Their quantitative study revealed that the most consoling were the sound and texture of the music, followed by the personal meaning of its lyrics, and – to a lesser extent – perceived closeness to artists and other listeners.

Laplante and Downie (2011) studied specifically music information searching in the recreational context, and focused mostly on utilitarian outcomes of acquisition of music and information about music. However, they also discussed potential hedonic outcomes, like pleasure (pleasure of shopping, pleasure of time for oneself) to be experienced, and feeling of engagement. The latter was not related to interpersonal relations, but related to feeling dipped in a world full of music – be it in real shops and libraries, or virtual music platforms. This is in fact still an emotion and/or experience accompanying an information searching process itself, but not an emotion being searched as an attribute of the reception of musical content or information usage.

Exploring information behaviour, motives and needs calls for reference to cultural studies and sociology, the relational theory of culture in particular (Krajewski, 2013). It emphasizes a dynamic and inclusive character of culture, defined broadly as ‘relations among elements forming a community’ (Krajewski, 2013, p. 32), which stays in contrast with a traditional concept of culture as a set of goods, societal rules and/or values. Participation in culture is further explained as ‘supporting, modifying, constructing or destructing a network of relations constitutive for a community, as one's (individual, group, subject, living organism, etc.) influence on culture’ (Krajewski, 2013, p. 49-50). Such an approach refers to the theoretical fundamentals of network society, dynamic relations (DeLanda, 2006; Latour, 2007), and the societal status of change and liquidity, in modern times in particular (Bauman, 2000). The relational theory of culture, its dynamic and interactive character, corresponds with the concept of culture defined as a triad of identity, emotions, and values (Potoroczyn, 2016). It also encourages us to perceive and analyse information behaviour as a type of dynamic relation being formed between a user and cultural information/content.

This concept of culture moves us to a question concerning people's needs, motives, competencies, and behaviour while accessing, interpreting, and/or delivering cultural information and content, i.e. a question about relationality of cultural information. Instead of concentrating solely on cultural statistics and delivering data of encyclopaedic character, we should enrich research by intensifying studies of people’s cultural practices, with searching for cultural information as one of them (Drozdowski, Fatyga, Filiciak, Krajewski and Szlendak, 2014).


This research was conducted according to the phenomenological paradigm. The results were collected with inductive quality methodology (focus group interviews - FGI), to grasp a subjective, personal perspective of the respondents, their previous experience and knowledge (Moustakas, 1994).

The described project is exploratory and is a part of broader research underway, concerning relations between emotions and information behaviour in different contexts. It is based on two focus group interviews (FGI) with a group of respondents aged 14-16, with an information retrieval task in between, to be done within the NFA-AI resources. The respondents (purposive sampling) consisted of 6 teens from lower high school in a suburban city near Warsaw. The first interview revealed digital practices of the teens, their attitudes towards ICT, as well as their need for culture resources. The other focus group enabled a deeper discussion and reflection of either usability of the NFA-AI services, or the information needs and searching strategies used by the respondents looking for cultural content.

During both interviews the respondents often mentioned their need for cultural materials of informal character, i.e. not those recorded with the best potential quality, but those uploaded by individual viewers, recorded informally, with additional comments, noises, trembling, etc. We found it worth further explanation, which is discussed in the next section.

Findings and discussion

Inquiries concerning attitudes and motives driving the teens’ preferences and choices of cultural content should be preceded by a general observation of the role of ICT in their lives. As confirmed many times before, communication is the prevailing goal of using ICT devices among teens. They select a channel depending on whom they want to contact. Messenger and Snapchat are the first choice for contacting peers, while texting and phones are the first choice forcontacting parents. Mail is left as a form for special occasions, as one of the respondents said:

Respondent 1 (R1): Mails - yes. Not as a first choice, but if I need to write something longer or more… Gmail usually. I have an aunt living abroad, and sometimes we write letters or longer mails. I describe there what happened in my life, more or less.

The second area of intensive ICT usage is for entertainment and leisure, i.e. music, films (YouTube - for music clips and videoblogs, Netflix and other platforms for films and series), and games. The next are of ICT usage is education as a task and process, i.e. knowledge resources (Wikipedia or web platforms supporting doing homework) or so-called education management tools, i.e. school registers. These results are consistent with the ICILS survey (Sijko, 2014; Fraillon, Schulz, Friedman, Ainley and Gebhardt, 2015), where the majority of Polish teens indicated that their ICT usage included everyday listening to music, watching video clips, searching for information, and playing games. Digital media seem to be a fundamental resource for entertainment.

Answering specific questions concerning the respondents’ habits and preferences in searching and using cultural content, they en block mentioned YouTube as a main source of this type of materials.

R3: Referring to the concerts… There are people who share on YT something like vlogs from the concerts. They comment what was going on and show the things they saw, not a general view only.

Researcher: Is this OK for you to watch such a vlog version?

R1:  It is cool that there are people sharing their materials on YT. There is a kind of better, closer contact between a person sharing a film and a one watching it. When something is recorded by TV, in a more formal way, the contact is… how to say it… distant?

Surprisingly to the researchers, in further discussion the respondents declared strongly their preference for informal recordings to official versions, even though the same concert of a rock band is available both on YouTube and in the NFA-AI collection. The difference noticed by the respondents referred not only to a formal perspective of a recording, but also to individual, subjective, and emotional attributes of the material, being revealed for example in language (commentaries), personal selection of what is being recorded at the moment, even trembling of the picture as a result of hand recording.

R5: They talk to you in other way.

R1: Different speech, different way of presentation. More direct, more casual, more human.

This intensive and determined preference for subjective materials, even with their formal shortcomings and limitations, is compatible with the results of the project mentioned above. Individual commentaries accompanying concert recordings make their experience complete. It can also recompense worse technical quality of a recording. Obviously, it is also a consequence of the typical information behaviour of the teens, namely content sharing. The latter includes not only (or even not mainly) sharing official recordings, photos, etc., but the exchange of films and other materials created by themselves and quite imperfect in their nature, made as the result of momentum, a sudden inspiration. As Papinczak et al. noticed, their participants:

reported intensive sharing music with friends through a number of activities which allowed them to achieve goals, such as strengthening relationships with or communicating and expressing emotions to important others. Sharing online was a predominant way in which young people shared music with their friends, often through the social networking website Facebook. Sharing music with others required and implied intimacy, with participants reporting that they selectively shared music only with those close to them (Papinczak et al., 2015, p. 1122-1123).

These private materials can be classified and analysed as documents of emotions and experiences rather than music events only. A common sharing experience may contribute to the observed preferences and expectations of the respondents.

The need for intimate contact and individual, unique experience was indicated in other expectations of cultural institutions. When asked about the potential optimal cultural offer, the respondents pointed out the need for new content available in a participative, more interactive way.

R5: Cultural event must be interesting. For example, when we have got a trip concerning a person we have not heard about so far, this would be boring for us. Interesting is a trip to a candy factory or the Copernicus Science Centre, because we can touch things…

Researcher: You mean – interactive?

R1: Yes. Not only watch and listen to someone’s speech.

R4: Earphones, or a guide who speaks really interesting: casual and understandable language, jokes…  And someone who can answer any question, knowing the topic very well.

R5: To let us be active… do something, like in a chemical laboratory, make experiments, work in groups…

R6: Everybody can say something, not only listen to. If someone must be quiet and cannot discuss, he/she starts thinking about other things…

As the above sentences illustrate, the need for personal contact and engagement in whatever is going on is valid whether the circumstances are real or virtual. The need for deep, personal, and new experience dominates teens’ expectations towards cultural institutions, or perhaps the world as a whole. One can say that they even starve for relations, positive surprises, something new and something fresh.

R3: I also like the Warsaw Rising Museum, you can do different things there either. You do not have to watch everything, but what interest you more. It is also good if these institutions organize bigger events, for more people, like concerts for example. Open days…, events for children, like city games, concerts, festivals.

R6: Like film projections in parks, with old cinema films. People sit on a grass and integrate with each other.

R3: Or something like DIY, workshops… To do something you cannot do at home.

Expectations concerning the behaviour of educators or guides can be culturally specific, and therefore may be limited to, for example, Central European countries. The youth needs for informal communication may be the same, however their experiences and social roles of teachers may differ among regions. this question would require further study.

Researcher: What about contact with the educators and guides?

R3: They should be nice, kind, and smile in a natural way. Not to be false, when we can see they do not mean what they say. They should be easy-going, normal.

R1: Those who do what they do because they are interested in, and they like it, not just because they are paid for it. And they use normal, not formal language.

R3: Or gloomy people, those they seem like they do not care for anything.

R1: I like if they answer individual questions. To use names – you can wear badges – this make better contact with the others. You do not only listen to, but you participate.

A feeling of participation and community is of specific significance, which is quite impossible to experience in with professional recordings and transmissions. Teens want to decide individually and autonomously what to watch and do, and whom to listen to.

Both the literature review and the FGI results, revealing specific affective aspects of information behaviour of youth in relation to cultural content, lead us to a conceptual challenge of offering a preliminary model of information behaviour dedicated specifically to the area of culture (see Figure 1). This model includes assumptions of the relational theory of culture (Krajewski, 2013), and a concept of culture as a triad of identity, emotions, and values (Potoroczyn, 2016). It is also based on the phenomenological paradigm, a fundamental theoretical framework for the project. As the paradigm states, a subject of observation is created individually as a result of an observer's interpretations (an observer is a part of a subject being observed) (Creswell, 1998). In the analysed context, this kind of relation can be noticed between a user and information: a user, at least partially, creates information, determining its emotional aspect, joining it with predefined values, and deciding about the degree to which he/she uses its potential to build identity.

Figure 1:  Distribution of papers by year, 1962 to 2017

Figure 1: Model of information behaviour in the area of culture

This particular model is based on the information searching process defined in a classic way, as resulting from the necessity of answering fundamental human needs: physiological, affective, and cognitive (Wilson, 2006). In our model we do not use a term information need, echoing Wilson's approach, who wrote: 'it may be advisable to remove the term information needs entirely from our professional vocabulary and to think instead of information-seeking towards the satisfaction of needs' (Wilson, 2006, p. 664).

Two types of factors (social and situational) seem to be of particular importance from among a whole spectrum of the context of information searching within cultural resources, both in regard to the literature review and empirical data from the focus group interviews. Social factors refer to a user as a member of a group, either with his/her current social capital, or new relationships being built. They influence directly a mode of information searching and selection of information sources. As confirmed by empirical data, what is important is not only the information itself, but its relational dimension, supporting participation in a group and social life. This is also an expression of a modern, relational mode of cultural participation, as described by Krajewski (2013). Elements traditionally included in information behaviour models (Savolainen, 1995; Byström and Jarvelin, 1995) are situational factors: time and money in particular (being at the user’s disposal), as well as a task to be realised. A task's influence on the information searching process (Vakkari, 2003, Byström and Jarvelin, 1995), as well as information usage (Saastamoinen, Kumpulainen, Vakkari and Jarvelin, 2013) are confirmed.

The process of cultural information searching itself is inseparable from seeking for elements of the triad inherent in cultural content: emotions, values, and identity. Emotions experienced at the very moment, as well as these being missed or expected on a longer or firmer basis.

Using the terms searching in relation to information, and seeking in relation to emotions, we refer to their definitions as offered by Wilson (2000, p. 49-50). The quest for affective elements actually motivates and influences information searching, at least in the group of young users studied here. Information usage is then related to a decision about the scale of reception and incorporation of emotions and values inherent in cultural information and its potential to build (at least partially) a user's identity. These features therefore refine the concept of information in the model. Referring to the broad definition by Case: 'Information can be any difference you perceive, in your environment or within yourself. It is any aspect that you notice in the pattern of reality' (Case, 2008, p. 5), we emphasise a subjective definition of information. In line with our assumptions, the user's perspective influences eventual form and content of information. Finally, we believe, that in the context of participation in culture, information consists also of these three elements: its affective dimensions, values it represents, and a potential for identity building. This approach changes the perception of the whole spectrum of information behaviour, as emotions and values become not only elements accompanying information searching (as in Kuhlthau, 1991, Savolainen, 1995), but also are goals on their own.

As revealed by the FGI data, selection of cultural information/ content depends mostly on emotions, expected by the users and/or promised in some way by the providers. That is mostly the reason for social media materials being a first choice for users, before no matter how perfect official recordings. These emotions are inevitably related to the values and identities being developed and/or accepted by the users, in particular (but not limited to) for teens, in their specific stage of life.


Even though teens spend lot of their lives in a virtual world, communication and intensive relations with other people are very important in their lives. The results of this qualitative study of information behaviour in cultural contexts confirms and suggests that cultural experiences (like music ones) can be an important element in interactions with others. This perspective of analysing and interpreting emotions and behaviour of youth seems to be quite a new research trend, requiring common inquiries of representatives of such disciplines as sociology, psychology, anthropology, cultural studies, and – last but not least – information science.

It is worth noting that contrary to common opinion, often inspired by poor usage of digital collections, cultural information needs are essential for young users. As our observations demonstrate, they are mostly related to two types of tasks: educational or entertainment. The latter is strongly connected with building one's identity, a group belongingness, sharing emotions, and values. Knowledge of motives and needs of young users should influence development of cultural collections and their usability. Our research leads to the following set of questions as fundamental for further projects concerning use of culture resources, as well as development of digital cultural content. What types of information and/or multimedia recordings are the most required, searched, and popular? Is it possible to conquer with private videos on YouTube? What is important and what should be recognized first – social relations or education? How should education meetings, trainings, and materials be developed to make them attractive for the youth? How can knowledge be presented and transmitted effectively? Without options such as participative tools, commentaries and discussions, social media plug-ins, different formats of cultural materials (including private recordings), these collections can be pointless and jejune. Applications enabling individual activities based on cultural materials, remixing or creation, seem to be an attractive solution. The same refers to the educators and cultural events being offered in real world: potential users need to be listened to, to be active, and to be partners in interpersonal communication, to be together in a group or community. Authenticity is an expected value, as a feature of content and as an attitude of the educators.

There are also other questions emerging, like the one concerning the reasons for such needs. Is it simply a characteristic of the specific life stage, when relations with other people are crucial? Will these needs change in time? Or there is another factor, i.e., people are accustomed to or brought up with intensive experiences with media, Internet, social media, and other options available in their ICT devices in particular? Is this a temporal or permanent change? Studies on the youth behaviour in the context of music festivals suggest that this can be perceived as significant change in reception of cultural content. Music examples were discussed, but the same problems can be analysed regarding other collections – films, theatre performances, art presentations, happenings, etc.

This chase for emotions and interactions is a phenomenon to be considered in information behaviour research. Is the need for emotion and authenticity a specific factor to be recognized and incorporated in further inquiries? Does it change the role of informal information sources, at least in everyday information searching? Should we analyse information behaviour from a perspective of seeking for emotions, values, and identity connected with the information being searched? Is there any correlation between emotions experienced while watching or listening to cultural content and those faced during information searching itself (Laplante and Downie, 2011)? If so, how should cultural institutions design their information retrieval systems to make them more usable, pleasant, interactive, and user-friendly? Should they evolve in the direction of what Wikström (2012) calls a context model of cultural content distribution? The latter is primarily participative, and enables in-depth profiling of available collections, interaction with other users, increasing possibilities of doing things with content, like remixing, for instance (Brown and Knox, 2017).

Our observations enabled development of the preliminary model of information behaviour in the area of culture which incorporates assumptions of the relational theory of culture (Krajewski, 2013), and a concept of culture as a triad of identity, emotions, and values (Potoroczyn, 2016). We are aware of the limitations of this study, in particular a small number of respondents, precluding any generalisation of the conclusions. Triangulation of methodology would be beneficial in future studies, either qualitative (e.g., observations) or quantitative (questionnaires), to verify the results obtained at this stage of the project. FGIs with the teens from other countries and/or cultures would be of great interest. However, the preliminary model offered above is to serve as guide for further research, and needs to be verified in other studies. Accepting this perspective, collections of national heritage and their information systems in public cultural institutions can be perceived as partially useful for a specific group of people (or the users with specific needs) searching for identity (national, regional, individual, cultural, etc.) and values. They do not answer affective needs. However, in relational culture as defined by Krajewski (2013), emotional relationships between e users and cultural content is both acceptable and expected. It is then fundamental to enrich information retrieval systems with an affective component.

Finally, one should remember that seeking for cultural content is by definition seeking for emotions, values, and identity. From the perspective of information behaviour research it is important to look at emotions, values, and identity not as elements accompanying behaviour nor a context of information searching, but also as an aim being sought. These are in fact prerequisites for information behaviour research and development of information systems dedicated to cultural collections.


We would like to acknowledge fruitful and inspiring cooperation of the whole research team, including also Justyna Jasiewicz, Ph.D., Anna Buchner, Ph.D., and Maria Wierzbicka. The project was partially funded by the National Firm Archive – Audiovisual Institute in Warsaw, Poland.

About the authors

Małgorzata Kisilowska is an Associate Professor in the University of Warsaw, Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28 str., 00-927 Warsaw. She received her PhD from the University of Warsaw. Her research interests include information culture, information literacy, and information behaviour. She can be contacted at mdkisilo@uw.edu.pl.

Anna Mierzecka is an Assistant Professor in the University of Warsaw, 26/28 Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street , 00-927 Warsaw. She received her PhD from the University of Warsaw and her research interests include information behaviour, academic libraries and information literacy. She can be contacted at anna.mierzecka@uw.edu.pl.


How to cite this paper

Kisilowska, M. & Mierzecka, A. (2019). Emotions, experience, identity – motivations of the teens’ information behaviour in the area of culture In Proceedings of ISIC, The Information Behaviour Conference, Krakow, Poland, 9-11 October: Part 2. Information Research, 24(1), paper isic1826. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/24-1/isic2018/isic1826.html (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/76lXJx87Z)

Check for citations, using Google Scholar