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An Examination of the Effects of Health-related Internet Use in Individuals With Pathological Health Anxiety in a Randomized Controlled Trial (NCT03024593)

University of Cologne
The purpose of the current study is to examine the effects of health-related internet use on affect, health anxiety and symptom severity in individuals with pathological levels of health anxiety. The present randomized controlled study compares an online medical searching condition with a waiting (i.e. non-searching) condition to manipulate the attentional focus. After an induction of health anxiety using the Autobiographical Emotional Memory Task the participants in the searching condition go online and search for subjectively relevant health information (external focus of attention). Individuals in the waiting (i.e. non-searching) condition are requested to do nothing and not to distract themselves (internal focus of attention).
  • Behavioral: Health- and illness-related internet use
    Ages eligible for Study
    18 Years and older
    Genders eligible for Study
    Accepts Healthy Volunteers
    Inclusion Criteria:
    • Pathological health anxiety according to the criteria of Fink et al. (2004)
    • Informed consent
    • Sufficient German language skills
    • Sufficient skills using a computer, a smartphone and the internet
    Exclusion Criteria:
    • Suicidal tendency
    • Clinical diagnosis of alcohol or drug abuse, acute schizophrenia
    • Organic brain disorders
    • Impairment of intelligence
    The internet is a popular method for obtaining information. Increasingly, it is also used to answer medical and health related questions, because compared to other methods (e.g. going to the library or visiting a doctor) it has a number of advantages to offer like low costs, availability, easy accessibility, anonymity, and great diversity of information types and sources. 60 to 80 percent of internet users search online for medical information. In this context the term "cyberchondria" was coined in the media to describe the potentially detrimental effects of this behavior. The first studies in this field using self-report retrospective data showed that individuals with elevated levels of health anxiety seem to make increased use of the internet for this purpose and it seems to maintain health anxiety in the long-term. However, up until today little is known about the consequences of this behavior and the maintaining mechanism.

    This randomized controlled experimental study investigates the effects of health-related internet use on affect, symptom severity and health anxiety in individuals with pathological health anxiety. Participants will first undergo a baseline assessment. After that health anxiety is induced using the Autobiographical Emotional Memory Task and participants complete another assessment. Then participants are randomly assigned to either an online medical searching condition (experimental group, EG) or a non-searching condition (control group, CG) to manipulate attentional focus. The EG is requested to search online for health information (external focus of attention), the CG is requested to do nothing and not to distract themselves (internal focus of attention). Then another assessment is completed and the treatment groups are compared regarding the effects on affect, symptom severity and health anxiety. Besides examining these effects a further aim of this study is to identify the underlying mechanism. Two possibilities are supposed: a) An increase of the variables of interest due to health-related information or b) a decrease due to externalization.
    not yet recruiting
    01 January, 0001
    15 January, 2017
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