Tuesday, September 28, 2010
CyberPsychology 101: Cyberchondria
Being a psychology major in College, I realized that I really missed reading articles and theories involving human behavior. As such, the last few entries on my blog would touch on some new concepts on psychology dealing with Internet and the Cyberspace.
Cyberchondria, also known as cyberchondriasis, is the unfounded fear and anxiety that one is suffering the symptoms of an illness or disease after reading articles and literature online. It is said to be a variation of hypochondriasis, a psychological disorder involving an excessive preoccupation about having a serious illness.
The first systematic study of Cyberchondria was in 2008. The study conducted by Microsoft revealed that overall, people report to having a low level of health anxiety, but that Web-based escalation of concerns occurs frequently for around one in five people. Two in five people report that interactions with the Web increases medical anxiety and approximately half of people report that it reduces anxiety. Traits such as a person’s general anxiety level and predispositions to anxiety may contribute to the levels of medical anxiety experienced and to the likelihood of Web-induced medical escalation.
Based on studies, Cyberchondria is a growing concern today among many healthcare practitioners as patients can now research any and all symptoms of a rare disease, illness or condition in the Internet and thereafter manifest a state of medical anxiety. Patients who go against medical advice or refuse to accept a professional diagnosis while quoting questionable web sources have become more common and can be a frustrating obstacle to physicians trying to provide a professional standard of care.
I think most people generally experience cyberchondria in its mildest form. This may be due to the natural predisposition of people in having the so-called ‘confirmation bias’ which is the tendency to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way. For instance, when my sister was pregnant, she started reading medical articles online on pregnancy and for awhile, she started getting paranoid that she was suffering symptoms of complicated and dangerous pregnancy. We had to literally unplug the modem on her computer just so she would stop reading those articles which left her worrying unnecessarily.
Although most people will experience mild manifestation of cyberchondria in one way or another in their lifetime, it should not cause any panic or alarm, as such fear and anxiety goes away eventually. In normal circumstances, people forget after awhile and they start to be receptive again of new ideas and information, which would either cause or reduce their anxiety. And the cycle then begins again of eventually forgetting all about them.
Posted by Charisse B. Pena at 8:09 PM