UBC Theses and Dissertations
The issue of avoidance : information avoidance in the context of personal health concerns Addison, Colleen Victoria
Information is increasingly available at the touch of a button, and yet limits are still present in the ability and willingness of individuals to access that information. These limits can result in information avoidance, a phenomenon in which individuals prefer not to seek or be exposed to information. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident and more problematic than in health, where information has been linked to better health outcomes, and where the consumer health movement has shifted the responsibility of health information seeking from healthcare professionals to patients. This dissertation examines such health information avoidance, looking in particular at the mechanisms that constitute this phenomenon, and the affective, personality, and information source factors that influence it. Two studies were performed, the first an online survey using the crowdsourcing platform Mechanical Turk for recruitment, and the second a user study in which participants interacted with health information and were then interviewed. Both studies also employed scales such as the Need for Cognition scale, the Threatening Medical Situations Inventory (examining monitoring and blunting styles), and the Positive and Negative Affect short scale. Results indicate that very few people are willing to report practising complete information avoidance. However, numerous participants reported avoiding some information, often through filtering mechanisms such as self-regulation and delegation. This evidence of partial avoidance suggests that information avoidance can be located on a continuum of information seeking behaviours, rather than existing as a simple negation of information seeking. Significant factors that influence the practice of information avoidance were found to include affect such as fear, disgust, and disinterest, all factors that can indicate a threat to the participant. While the personality and information source factors tested were also influential, this work found that for these participants, affective factors often functioned as a primary influence. This work indicates that health information avoidance is a situation-dependent information behaviour, rather than primarily a personality trait as previously claimed. As such, it should be included in models that depict people’s general behavioural patterns with regard to information, such as Wilson’s (1999) General Model of Information Seeking and Johnson’s (1997) Comprehensive Model of Information Seeking.
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