Background. The concept of cyberchondria is proposed to describe a psychological phenomenon that manifests in the increase in health anxiety after excessive search for medical information. The structure of cyberchondria is quite heterogeneous. Features of actions (compulsive actions in search of information about health and diseases online) the relation of these actions to other human activities (excessive search), emotional (distress after the search) and behavioral (the search for confirmation) consequences of those actions, as well as mentalsetting (mistrust in medical experts) can be revealed in this structure. The question of the independence of cyberchondria, which is closely connected to obsessive-compulsive symptoms, health anxiety, hypochondriacal behavior and user activity, is also controversial.
Objective. The article aims to detect the relationship between cyberchondria and signs of excessive Internet use , somatization, hypochondrization, and health anxiety.
Design. The present study (before the coronavirus pandemic) involved 127 healthy respondents aged 18 to 70 years old and 33 active users of online medical websites. The respondents filled out the Cyberchondria Severity Scale, the scales of hypochondriacal behavior, beliefs about the body and health, health anxiety, Internet addiction and a number of checklists assessing their user activity and behavior related to health and illness.
Results. In the structure of cyberchondria, it is possible to reliably distinguish closely related components of the search for confirmation, compulsive actions, excessive and repetitive search, and distress after the search. Excessive search for information is more often associated with viewing images of diseases, seeking the confirmation along with reading reviews (i.e., it more often complements an actual search for a medical care, or cross-checks the results). Compulsive actions and distress are most closely associated with searching for information on social networks. Mistrust in healthcare professionals is weakly associated with cyberchondria. It reveals itself in a rare inclination to seek for a formal medical opinion both online and offline. However, a greater propensity for seeking for the information about alternative medicine on the Internet is observed. Manifestations of cyberchondria (apart from the mistrust in medical professionals) are closely associated with an excessive user activity and the tendency for somatoform symptoms and hypochondriacal behavior. This supports the hypothesis that cyberchondria is a specific behavior that is based on other clinical-psychological phenomena.
Rostovtseva, N.A., Rasskazova, E.I., Tkhostov, A.Sh., Emelin, V.A. (2022). Cyberchondria: an independent phenomenon or the manifestation of hypochondriac traits online, National Psychological Journal [Natsional’nyy psikhologicheskiy zhurnal], 1 (45), 76–93.