Threatened individuals prefer positive information during Internet search: An experimental laboratory study



The Internet is the main source for information search and it is increasingly used in the health domain. Such self-relevant Internet searches are most probably accompanied by affective states such as threat (e.g., being afraid of a serious illness). Thus, threat can influence the entire Internet search process. Threat is known to elicit a preference for positive information. This positive bias has recently been shown for separate steps of the Internet search process (i.e., selection of links, scanning of webpages, and recall of information). To extend this research, the present study aimed at investigating the influence of threat across the Internet search process. We expected that threatened individuals similarly prefer positive information during this process. An experimental laboratory study was conducted with undergraduate students (N = 114) enrolled in a broad range of majors. In this study, threat was manipulated and then participants were to complete a preprogrammed, realistic Internet search task which was used to assess selection of links, scanning of webpages, and recall of information. The results supported our hypothesis and revealed that, during the Internet search task, threatened individuals directed more attention to positive information (i.e., selected more positive links and scanned positive webpages longer) and, as a consequence, also recalled more positive information than non-threatened individuals. Thus, our study shows that not only separate steps but also the Internet search process as such is susceptible to being influenced by affective states such as threat.

Internet search; health-related information; threat; counter-regulation; self-relevance

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