An Australian study has revealed that people searching the Internet for answers to their health questions absorb what they want to read, potentially placing their health at risk.
The study, conducted at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), showed that people are inclined to maintain their beliefs, even if they find contrary information.
"Our research shows that, even if search engines do find the 'right' information, people may still draw the wrong conclusions - in other words, their conclusions are biased," News.com.au quoted Professor Enrico Coiera at UNSW, as saying.
It was also found that factors like, where the information appears in search results, and how much time a person spends looking at it, affects how people perceive it.
"The first or the last document the user sees has a much greater impact on their decisions," Professor Coiera added.
The findings are important as many people search for answers to their health questions on the Internet.
"We know that the web is increasingly being used by people to help them make healthcare decisions. There can be negative consequences if people find the wrong information, especially as people in some countries can now self-medicate by ordering drugs online," Professor Coiera said.
"Australians can order complementary medicines online and these can interfere with other medications. This means that providing people with the right information on its own may not be enough," he added.
In order to help people make sense of the information, which they are presented with, Professor Coiera along with Dr Annie Lau created a new search engine interface, which according to them breaks down cognitive biases.
"The new search engine interface we have designed could be a part of any search engine and allows people to organise the information they find, and as a result organise their thoughts better. Often by going through things in a slightly more organised way it becomes pretty obvious what the answer really should be," he said.
The results have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.