The Influence of Positive Hypothesis Testing on Youths’ Online Health-Related Information Seeking

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Online searching, Consumer health information behavior, Credibility assessment, Online health information seeking, Positive hypothesis testing, Youth information seeking

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Purpose: The aim of this paper is to investigate whether/how youths’ pre-existing beliefs regarding health-related topics influence their online searching behaviors, such as their selection of keywords and search results, their credibility assessments and the conclusions they draw and the uses they make (or do not make) of the information they find. More specifically, we sought to determine whether positive hypothesis testing occurs when youth search for health information online and to ascertain the potential impacts this phenomenon can have on their search behaviors, their ability to accurately answer health-related questions and their confidence in their answers.

Design/methodology/approach: An exploratory field experiment was conducted with participants in an after-school program (“HackHealth”), which aims to improve the health literacy skills and health-related self-efficacy of middle-school students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Findings: Evidence of positive hypothesis testing among the participants was found and important impacts on their search outcomes were observed.

Practical implications: The paper was concluded with suggestions for improving digital literacy instruction for youth so as to counteract the potentially negative influences of positive hypothesis testing.

Originality/value: This study extends existing research about positive hypothesis testing to investigate the existence and impact of this phenomenon within the context of tweens (ages 11-14) searching for health information online.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

New Library World, v. 116, issues 3-4, p. 136-154