Appl Clin Inform 2011; 02(02): 177-189
DOI: 10.4338/ACI-2011-01-RA-0006
Research Article – MedInfo Special Topic
Schattauer GmbH

How Online Crowds Influence the Way Individual Consumers Answer Health Questions

An Online Prospective Study
A.Y.S. Lau
1  Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
,
T.M.Y. Kwok
2  Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
,
E. Coiera
1  Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

Received: 20 January 2011

Accepted: 16 April 2011

Publication Date:
16 December 2017 (online)

Summary

Objective: To investigate whether strength of social feedback, i.e. other people who concur (or do not concur) with one’s own answer to a question, influences the way one answers health questions.

Methods: Online prospective study. Two hundred and twenty-seven undergraduate students were recruited to use an online search engine to answer six health questions. Subjects recorded their pre- and post-search answers to each question and their level of confidence in these answers. After answering each question post-search, subjects were presented with a summary of post-search answers provided by previous subjects and were asked to answer the question again.

Results: There was a statistically significant relationship between the absolute number of others with a different answer (the crowd’s opinion volume) and the likelihood of an individual changing an answer (P<0.001). For most questions, no subjects changed their answer until the first 10–35 subjects completed the study. Subjects’ likelihood of changing answer increased as the percentage of others with a different answer (the crowd’s opinion density) increased (P=0.047). Overall, 98.3% of subjects did not change their answer when it concurred with the majority (i.e. >50%) of subjects, and that 25.7% of subjects changed their answer to the majority response when it did not concur with the majority. When subjects had a post-search answer that did not concur with the majority, they were 24% more likely to change answer than those with answers that concurred (P<0.001).

Conclusion: This study provides empirical evidence that crowd influence, in the form of online social feedback, affects the way consumers answer health questions.