Principal investigator Yifeng Hu, assistant professor of communications, College of New Jersey, Ewing, N.J., and colleague S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of communications, Penn State, examined the relative importance of different online sources and how people evaluate and act on online health information.
Sundar said: "Most people look for health information online by keying disease symptoms into various search engines. But the results of that search could range from experts at the Mayo Clinic to somebody's personal blog."
Sundar added: "We wanted to find out if users differentiate between various sources of online information and how that choice impacts their decisions. The health topics were controversial enough to raise questions of credibility among readers."
Researchers found that screenshots of both health topics were seen as significantly more reliable when attributed to a doctor and featured on a website rather than on a blog, individual homepage or a bulletin board.
Sundar said: "It tells us that young people are actually differentiating between different online sources when evaluating health information on the Internet."
The study was published in the Communication Research.