The Positive and Negative Influence of Search Results on People's Decisions about the Efficacy of Medical Treatments
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People regularly use web search engines to investigate the efficacy of medical treatments. Search results can contain documents that present incorrect information that contradicts current established medical understanding on whether a treatment is helpful or not for a health issue. If people are influenced by the incorrect information found in search results, they can make harmful decisions about the appropriate treatment. To determine the extent to which people can be influenced by search engine results, we conducted a controlled laboratory study that biased search results towards correct or incorrect information for 10 different medical treatments. We found that search engine results can significantly influence people both positively and negatively. Importantly, study participants made more incorrect decisions when they interacted with search results biased towards incorrect information than when they had no interaction with search results at all. For search domains such as health information, search engine designers and researchers must recognize that not all non-relevant information is the same. Some non-relevant information is incorrect and potentially harmful when people use it to make decisions that may negatively impact their lives.
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Frances A. Pogacar, Amira Ghenai, Mark Smucker, Charles L. A. Clarke (2017). The Positive and Negative Influence of Search Results on People's Decisions about the Efficacy of Medical Treatments. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/12521