Studying health anxiety related attentional bias during online health information seeking: Impacts of stages and task types

Qing Ke, Jia Tina Du, Yuexi Geng, Yushan Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Seeking online health information may reinforce the anxiety of those who are already overly anxious about their health. This study explored how people with health anxiety may behave differently in terms of their attentional biases when seeking health information online. We conducted an eye-tracking experiment with 17 participants in the high health anxious group and 17 participants in the low health anxious group, who performed three types of information-seeking tasks (factual, interpretive, and exploratory) on a Chinese health website. We observed that both groups mainly allocated their attention to the stages of evaluating the list of search results and synthesizing information to make health decisions. They showed similar attention tracks at the earlier search stages and health anxiety was found to associate with attentional biases towards certain website stimuli. However, the high health anxious group showed more active eye movements than their low health anxious counterparts. Attentional biases from the high health anxious group mainly occurred at the later stage of processing rather than the initial orientation stages. As for task types, the high health anxious group presented more extensive attentional biases when performing the interpretive task, compared to the explorative and factual tasks. The findings provide novel insights into the attentional biases of people with health anxiety as they search online for health information, which have implications on designing more effective information interventions for vulnerable groups of health information consumers. The findings can also help clinicians interpret patients’ anxiety-related sensations and provide intervening recommendations for clients in use of online health information.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103453
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalInformation Processing and Management
Issue number5
Early online dateJul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


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