(Don’t) Trust the internet – education more effective than warnings for assessing health-related websites

Published on July 11 2017 – There are a number of established evaluation criteria that allow consumers to assess the quality and reliability of health-related websites. However, consumers do not often use these criteria. Rather, they rely on simple heuristics, such as how nice the layout of the website is and how high the website is ranked in Google Ranking. These heuristics may, however, have adverse effects because less reliable websites also appear high on Google Ranking and may have nice layouts. It is currently unclear how to increase the appraisal skills of consumers so that they are better able to evaluate online health information.

In a collaboration with the University of Lucerne, Corine Meppelink and Nicola Diviani examined the effects of information and / or warnings on both the credibility and quality of two websites. One of these websites was of poor quality, and the other of high quality. In experimental conditions, participants read either (1) information about the benefits from using established evaluation criteria, (2) warnings about the use of non-established criteria, or (3) a combination of these warnings and benefits. The 436 participants were randomly exposed to one of three experimental conditions or to the control condition, after which they were asked to indicate the quality and reliability of the two websites.
The results showed that participants who had read information about the benefits were better able to distinguish low quality websites from high quality websites: in addition, they were better able to indicate the lower quality of the low-quality website. These scores were not significantly different from those who had read the combination of warning and benefits. Weaker to no effects were found in participants from the control condition and warning condition. Consumers are thus better able to select reliable and high quality health information on the Internet by giving them simple information on the benefits of using established evaluation criteria.

Read more? Diviani, N., & Meppelink, C. S. (2017). The impact of recommendations and warnings on the quality evaluation of health websites: An online experiment. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 122-129. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.01.057

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