|Online Medical Symptom Checks and Personal Risk Perception|
|Living - Health & Fitness|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Monday, 19 March 2012 02:00|
Phoenix, AZ, USA. The way information is presented online specifically, the order in which symptoms are listed makes a significant difference on how individuals make decisions about their health.
For a set of symptoms presented as a sequence, if the person checks off more symptoms in a row, the research found, they perceive a higher personal risk of having that illness.
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 (ASU) psychologist Virginia Kwan, learning that statistic. How might information accessed online affect individual health decisions? Kwan conducted a study of the phenomenon with Sean Wojcik of the University of California, Irvine, Talya Miron-shatz of Ono Academic College (Israel), Ashley Votruba of ASU, and Christopher Olivola of the University of Warwick. Their findings appear in the journal Psychological Science.
You feel under the weather so you Google your symptoms
A half-hour later, you are convinced it is nothing serious or afraid you have cancer.
"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.
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).
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.
It is 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 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."
CitationEffects of Symptom Presentation Order on Perceived Disease Risk. Virginia S. Y. Kwan, Sean P. Wojcik, Talya Miron-shatz, Ashley M. Votruba, Christopher Y. Olivola. Psychological Science 2012. doi:10.1177/0956797611432177
People are quick to perceive meaningful patterns in the co-occurrence of events. We report two studies exploring the effects of streaks in symptom checklists on perceived personal disease risk. In the context of these studies, a streak is a sequence of consecutive items on a list that share the characteristic of being either general or specific. We identify a psychological mechanism underlying the effect of streaks in a list of symptoms and show that the effect of streaks on perceived risk varies with the length of the symptom list. Our findings reveal a tendency to infer meaning from streaks in medical and health decision making. Participants perceived a higher personal risk of having an illness when presented with a checklist in which common symptoms were grouped together than when presented with a checklist in which these same symptoms were separated by rare symptoms. This research demonstrates that something as arbitrary as the order in which symptoms are presented in a checklist can affect perceived risk of disease.
Keywords: judgment, prediction, social cognition, decision making, health, randomness cognition.
|Last Updated on Monday, 19 March 2012 05:46|