Are You a "Cyberchondriac?"

Paul Lilly

We've all used the web to research and help diagnose what might be causing that nagging ailment, whether it be related to sudden fatique or a new pain not associated with an obvious injury. But when you use the web in place of a doctor, do you tend to worry that your symptoms are indicative of a worst case scenario? If so, your real ailment might be cyberchondria.

Earlier this week, Microsoft researchers published the results of a study examining health-related web inquiries as well as a survey of the company's employees. The results of the study indicate that people who use search engines as a self-diagnosis tool often conclude the worst about whatever it is that ails them.

"People tend to look at just the first couple of results," said Eric Horvitz , an artificial intelligence researcher at Microsoft Research. "If they find 'brain tumor' or 'A.L.S.,' that's their launching point."

According to the study conducted by Horvitz, who holds a medical degree, and his fellow investigator Ryen W. White, a specialist in information retrieval technology, web searches for ailments like headaches and chest pain were equally or more likely to land surfers on pages describing dire conditions as benign ones. For someone who is suffering from a headache, search results would link the symptom to brain tumors just as often as they would with caffeine withdrawal, even though the chance of having a brain tumor is highly unlikely.

The researchers suggest that a combination of human nature to jump to worst-case conclusions combined with a reliance on web search rankings contribute to the tendency to be a cyberchondriac.

Does this describe you or anyone you know? Hit the jump and tell us.

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