Health anxiety and Internet use: A thematic analysis


The current study aimed to obtain health anxious students’ perspectives on their reasons for using the Internet to obtain health information, and the nature and effects of such usage. Data were gathered using semi-structured interviews with 20 postgraduate and undergraduate students identified as highly health anxious, and were examined using thematic analysis. Results suggested that themes were organized by different stages of the search process. Reasons for searching included curiosity, anxiety/worry about undiagnosed symptoms, and remedy-seeking. Both positive (e.g. reassurance) and negative (e.g. uncertainty) outcomes were reported. Findings from the current study suggest that the Internet constitutes an important resource for obtaining health information by health anxious individuals, with the potential to both reduce and exacerbate health anxiety.

Hypochondria; cyberchondria; qualitative; internet; health anxiety
Author biographies

Karmpaul Singh

Dr. Karmpaul Singh is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Applications of Health Psychology at the University of Southampton (UK). His research interests primarily relate to health anxiety and its relation to online contexts, and more broadly in e-health and ‘cyber-psychology’. His past and current research interests have aimed to examine how technology is related to health behaviours. He is currently working on determining how such technology can be harnessed to help resolve detrimental instances of mental health, and improve quality of life for cancer survivors via online interventions.

John R. E. Fox

Dr. John Fox is a consultant Clinical Psychologist, lecturer in clinical psychology (honorary), and an author/researcher in the field of mental health. He has published over 50 research studies and one book on eating disorders. His work has focused on emotional processing within eating disorders, psychological approaches to physical health (e.g. cancer, Tourette’s syndrome), and qualitative research methodology.

Richard J. Brown

Dr. Richard J Brown is Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology and Programme Director for the Clinical Psychology Doctorate at the University of Manchester. He is also Honorary Consultant Clinical Psychologist with Manchester Mental Health and Social Care NHS Trust, where he runs the Functional Neurological and Dissociative Disorders (FuNDD) Service. He has written numerous theoretical, empirical and clinical papers on “medically unexplained” symptoms, with a particular focus on the psychology of dissociation and functional neurological symptoms. He won the British Psychological Society May Davidson Award in 2012 for his work in this area.

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