Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Checking off symptoms online affects our perceptions of risk

Date:
March 16, 2012
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
You've been feeling under the weather. You Google your symptoms. A half-hour later, you're convinced it's nothing serious -- or afraid you have cancer. More than 60 percent of Americans get their health information online, and a majority of those decide whether to see a doctor based on what they find. "Wow, this is an era of self-diagnosis," thought Arizona State University psychologist Virginia Kwan, learning that statistic. Psychologists have asked how might online information affect individual health decisions?

You've been feeling under the weather. You Google your symptoms. A half-hour later, you're convinced it's nothing serious -- or afraid you have cancer. More than 60 percent of Americans get their health information online, and a majority of those decide whether to see a doctor based on what they find. "Wow, this is an era of self-diagnosis," thought Arizona State University psychologist Virginia Kwan, learning that statistic. How might information accessed online affect individual health decisions?

Related Articles


In a new study, Kwan and her colleagues found that the way information is presented -- specifically, the order in which symptoms are listed -- makes a significant difference. "People irrationally infer more meanings from a 'streak'" -- an uninterrupted series whether of high rolls of the dice or disease symptoms of consecutively reported symptoms. If they check off more symptoms in a row, the research found, "they perceive a higher personal risk of having that illness." The study -- conducted with Sean Wojcik of the University of California, Irvine, Talya Miron-shatz of Ono Academic College, Ashley Votruba of ASU, and Christopher Olivola of the University of Warwick -- appears in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Surveying cancer-related sites, the researchers discovered that these vary in the way they present common and mild -- or "general" -- symptoms and more specific and serious ones. To test how streaks affect risk perception, students were presented with lists of six symptoms of a fictional kind of thyroid cancer ("isthmal"). One group got three general symptoms (such as fatigue and weight fluctuation) followed by three specific ones (e.g., lump in the neck); another the reverse order; and the third group a list alternating between general and specific. Participants checked off symptoms they'd experienced in the previous six weeks and then rated their perceived likelihood of having the cancer. The first two orders yielded similar risk ratings. But the ratings were significantly lower when the list alternated.

A second experiment compared lists of 12 or 6 symptoms, this time for a real cancer, meningioma. The three orders were the same as in the first experiment. The effect of order disappeared for the longer, but not the shorter, list -- that is, the influence of streaks was diluted when the list was longer. It's possible that even if a participant checked a series of symptoms -- leading to suspicion of disease -- boxes left unchecked offered reassurance of to the contrary, the authors think.

The findings could prove useful for public health education, Kwan says. "With certain types of illnesses, people tend to seek medical attention at the latest stage." Meanwhile, "people also go to doctors asking all the time about illnesses that are very rare." To encourage people to seek earlier health screenings, grouping common and mild symptoms might be wise. To limit overreaction, the rare ones should top the list. Reaching particular populations is also a public health challenge. "College students think they are invincible," says Kwan. "There are ways to structure information to help them realize there are diseases that don't discriminate."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. V. S. Y. Kwan, S. P. Wojcik, T. Miron-shatz, A. M. Votruba, C. Y. Olivola. Effects of Symptom Presentation Order on Perceived Disease Risk. Psychological Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1177/0956797611432177

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Checking off symptoms online affects our perceptions of risk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120316112644.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2012, March 16). Checking off symptoms online affects our perceptions of risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120316112644.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Checking off symptoms online affects our perceptions of risk." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120316112644.htm (accessed January 26, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Monday, January 26, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola Mistakes Should Serve a Lesson Says WHO

Ebola Mistakes Should Serve a Lesson Says WHO

AFP (Jan. 25, 2015) The World Health Organization&apos;s chief on Sunday admitted the UN agency had been caught napping on Ebola, saying it should serve a lesson to avoid similar mistakes in future. Duration: 00:55 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Disneyland Measles Outbreak Spreads To 5 States

Disneyland Measles Outbreak Spreads To 5 States

Newsy (Jan. 24, 2015) Much of the Disneyland measles outbreak is being blamed on the anti-vaccination movement. The CDC encourages just about everyone get immunized. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Growing Measles Outbreak Worries Calif. Parents

Growing Measles Outbreak Worries Calif. Parents

AP (Jan. 23, 2015) Public health officials are rushing to contain a measles outbreak that has sickened 70 people across 6 states and Mexico. The AP&apos;s Raquel Maria Dillon has more. (Jan. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) A Boston start-up is developing a wristband they say will help users break bad habits by jolting them with an electric shock. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins