Category: Adult Anxiety
The majority of people in the U.S. report using the Internet to obtain health information (White & Horvitz, 2009). Cyberchondria refers to the phenomenon by which individuals engage in repetitive online searches for health information that serve to exacerbate health anxiety (Taylor & Asmundson, 2004). Prior research suggests associations between lower-order factors of neuroticism/negative affect, such as anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty (e.g., Norton & Mehta, 2007), and cyberchondria (Fergus, 2015; Norr et al., 2015). However, anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty only account for a minority of variance in cyberchondria scores; therefore, underscoring a need to identify additional individual difference variables that contribute to the manifestation cyberchondria. Impulsivity is an additional lower-order factor of neuroticism/negative affect (Costa & McCrae, 1992), and prior research supports a positive association between impulsivity and problematic Internet use (e.g., Chen et al., 2015). The present study seeks to extend upon these findings by providing the first known examination of associations between cyberchondria and impulsivity.
The sample (N = 652) consisted of U.S. community adults recruited through a crowdsourcing website who reported using the internet to search for health information. The mean age was 33.3 years (SD =11.4). A slight majority of the sample was male (51%) and participants predominantly self-identified as white (76.1%). Participants completed self-report measures of negative affect, anxiety sensitivity, intolerance of uncertainty, impulsivity, and cyberchondria (Cronbach’s αs > .70).
The three assessed dimensions of impulsivity (i.e., attentional, motor, nonplanning) shared small positive associations with cyberchondria (rs ranging from .15-.28, ps < .001). Hierarchical multiple linear regression analyses indicated that the assessed lower-order factors of neuroticism/negative affect collectively accounted for 42% of variance in cyberchondria scores. Only the motor (β = .13, p = .001) dimension of impulsivity accounted for unique variance in cyberchondria scores beyond the effects of negative affect, anxiety sensitivity, and intolerance of uncertainty. The physical (β = .25, p < .001) and cognitive (β = .22, p < .001) dimensions of anxiety sensitivity, as well as the inhibitory (β = .28, p < .001) dimension of intolerance of uncertainty, shared unique associations with cyberchondria. Negative affect did not share a unique association with cyberchondria (β = .03, p = .850). Study results indicate that a lack of deliberation of consequences before acting (i.e., motor impulsivity) may be an additional important individual difference variable for understanding cyberchondria.