Jin Gao's Dissertation Defense


Title: Health Anxiety and Online Health Information Seeking: An Experimental Study

Abstract: Health anxiety is a psychological trait that refers to the tendency to experience health-related worries and fears triggered by misinterpretations of bodily sensations as indicative of serious illness. Recent studies have suggested a possible link between health anxiety and online health information seeking (OHIS). It is evident that people with high health anxiety tend to engage in excessive OHIS when noticing unfamiliar bodily symptoms, but often experience negative affect (e.g., worries and fears about health) during or following the search. As a result, they continue to search for more information to reassure themselves. Despite current knowledge, much remains unknown about the relationship between health anxiety and OHIS. This dissertation aimed to further explore the relationships between health anxiety and the way people feel (affective), think (cognitive) and act (behavioral) during OHIS. First, I discussed key concepts and theories related to health anxiety and OHIS. Next, I reviewed empirical studies on relationships between health anxiety and the cognitive, affective and behavioral aspect of OHIS. Based on reviewed theories and empirical studies, I developed a conceptual framework — eHealth Anxiety Model (eHAM). Guided by this model, I proposed a series of research hypothesis which state the relationships between health anxiety and six outcome variables that represent the cognitive (perceived health risk), affective (valence, arousal and control) and behavioral (search effort and search outcome) dimension of OHIS. To test the hypotheses, I conducted a quasi-experiment in which participants were asked to perform an online search to find out the most likely diagnosis of an illness case. Results of the quantitative analysis revealed that health anxiety and online search had no statistically significant interaction effect on people’s cognitive, affective and behavioral experience during OHIS. However, health anxiety did have a significant main effect on perceived health risk, valence and search accuracy. To be specific, participants with higher health anxiety perceived greater health risk about the illness case, experienced greater negative affect overall, and were more likely to find the correct diagnosis than those with lower health anxiety. This dissertation’s theoretical contributions include integrating the theoretical models and concepts from psychology and information science and developing the eHealth Anxiety Model. Results of this study can inform health practitioners and researchers in developing effective interventions for treating online health anxiety.

A printed copy of the dissertation is in the tray in the workroom (labeled "Proposals and Dissertations"). Link to the PDF file: https://utexas.box.com/s/tme6melqcsoqtp4byypup4zu7uhgs72l.

Committee: Bo Xie (Chair), Yan Zhang, Andrew Dillon, and Lorraine O. Walker (School of Nursing)


11:00am to 1:00pm


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