Lead author Eszter Hargittai of Northwestern University said as part of a larger research project, study participants from both a suburban and an urban college in the Midwest, were asked to perform a dozen information-seeking tasks on a network-connected computer while being observed by a researcher in 2007 and 2008.
In one task, students were given the following hypothetical scenario and asked to search out answers online: "You are at home in the middle of summer. A friend calls Friday at midnight and the condom broke while she was with her boyfriend. What can she do to prevent pregnancy? She lives in South Bend, Ind."
The majority of the study participants used a search engine -- mostly Google -- to navigate to Web sites for information, including:
-- 31 percent visited Planned Parenthood's national or local Web site.
-- 10 percent pulled up morningafterpill.org, a site by the American Life League.
-- 8 percent went to Princeton University's Office of Population Research Web site.
-- 6 percent visited Wikipedia during their search.
-- 4 percent looked at the Plan B emergency contraception pill manufacturer's Web site.
-- 4 percent went to a topic-related site such as WebMD.
"These results suggest that despite their highly wired lifestyles, many young adults do not have the necessary skills to navigate the vast amounts of information available online with expertise," Hargittai said.
The findings were published in the journal Policy & Internet.