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The impact of health threat on knowledge acquisition on the Internet

Working groupSocial Processes Lab

09/2010 - open

FundingLeibniz-WissenschaftsCampus Tübingen, IWM budget resources
Project description

Besides content-related interest about a specific topic, personal relevance, too, provides motivation for individuals to search for information on the Internet. This personal relevance may, for example, result from experiencing health-related threat. How does health-related threat influence information search on the Internet (e.g., generation of search terms, selection of links, and memory for the information read) and the representation of one's own health?

Health-related threat is an affective-motivational state which activates defense mechanisms to reduce the threat – that may be positively biased information tendencies beneficial to self-esteem. When patients gather information from the Internet in a self-directed fashion, they will (1) search for and receive information in a positively biased way (e.g., focus especially on the chance of getting cured) and (2) thus represent their own health more positively.


Laboratory experiments and a longitudinal field study within this project supported these assumptions. In another longitudinal study the impact of health-related threat on decisions with regard to participation in preventive measures was investigated.

Competence Center for University Teaching in Medicine, University of Tübingen

Institute for Ethics and the History of Medicine, University of Tübingen

Knowledge construction Lab


Becker, D., Grapendorf, J., Greving, H., & Sassenberg, K. (2018). Perceived threat and Internet use predict intentions to get bowel cancer screening (colonoscopy): A longitudinal questionnaire study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 20(2), e46.

Sassenberg, K., & Greving, H. (2016). Internet searching about disease elicits a positive perception of own health when severity of illness is high: A longitudinal questionnaire study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(3), e56.

Greving, H., Sassenberg, K., & Fetterman, A. (2015). Counter-regulating on the Internet: Threat elicits preferential processing of positive information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 21, 287-299.

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