Abstract: Processing and Effects of Contradictory and Complex Health Information
Contradictory and complex health information prevalent in the media can lead to uncertainty in health decision-making. We developed and tested a theoretical model of the processing and effects of such health information on uncertainty and information-seeking intentions. American adults (N = 584) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: contradictory messages, complex messages, or no-message/control. Participants in the message conditions read contradictory or complex messages and completed measures of perceived message contradiction and complexity, appraisals of health outcomes, threat emotions, and information-seeking intentions. All participants completed measures of issue and decision uncertainty. Perceived contradiction was higher in the contradictory condition than in the complex condition. Perceived complexity did not vary across message conditions. The contradictory and complex messages increased decision uncertainty, but not issue uncertainty, relative to the control condition. The contradictory and complex messages did not generate different levels of negative appraisals, threat emotions, and information-seeking intentions, indicating that this theoretical distinction may not be meaningful to laypersons. Results supported a model in which message contradiction and complexity give rise to issue uncertainty, leading to decision uncertainty. Decision uncertainty in turn affects information seeking through the mediation of negative appraisals and emotions. Model refinements and theoretical implications are discussed.