Abstract: “Triggering” Information Seeking: Risk Messages, Elaboration, and Immediate Seeking Behaviors

◆ Elisabeth Bigsby, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
◆ Shelly R. Hovick, The Ohio State University
◆ Naomi Tan, The Ohio State University
◆ Sarah N. Thomas, The Ohio State University
◆ Samuel Wilson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Background: Several scholars have theorized on the topic of health information seeking, including factors that motivate the information search process. Although these theories and models have evolved over time, in general, this literature asserts that “triggers” such as risk perceptions and/or knowledge gaps motivate information seeking. However, few studies have examined the effects of messages designed to increase information seeking or tried to identify intrinsic message features associated with information seeking intentions and behaviors. In addition, in the risk information seeking and processing (RISP) model (Griffin, Dunwoody, & Neuwirth, 1999; Griffin, Neuwirth, Giese, & Dunwoody, 2002), information processing is believed to be an integral part of the information seeking process. Again, however, studies have rarely tested this prediction. For example, others have noted, “Future research should explore risk information seeking as it relates to information processing and subsequent knowledge (which is strongly suggested by the larger body of RISP research)” (Eastin, Kahlor, Liang, & Ghannam, 2015, p. 617). Therefore, in this study, we experimentally examine the role of information processing when people are exposed to messages designed to vary their perceptions of risk and how information processing affects immediate information seeking behavior.

Method: Participants were recruited from an online participant panel coordinated by Qualtrics, Inc. In order to qualify for the study, participants had to be an adult (aged 18-65 years old) living in the United States. After an individual agreed to participate in the study, they were randomly assigned to one of three environmental risk topics (arsenic, bisphenol A [BPA], or volatile organic compounds [VOCs]) and one of three message conditions (risk, informational, or no message control). Risk messages included severity and susceptibility information. Informational messages included basic information about the risks but no severity and susceptibility information. Participants who were exposed to a message engaged in a thought-listing task to assess message processing, responded to closed-ended message processing items, and additional items not reported here. Participants were then given the opportunity to seek more information about their risk topic via a sample search engine page with live uniform resource locators (URLs). The sample search engine pages were designed and hosted by us so that we could track information seeking behaviors (e.g., time spent on the search page, number of links clicked).

Preliminary results: We used Hayes’ (2018) PROCESS model 4 to run a preliminary test, comparing participants exposed to informational messages to participants exposed to risk messages (n = 834). These results suggest that participants who were exposed to risk messages reported higher levels of elaboration in support of the message advocacy than participants who were exposed to informational messages (unstandardized coefficient = 0.42, SE = .08, p < .001). Higher levels of elaboration, in turn, increased the amount of time spent seeking (unstandardized coefficient = 5.40, SE = 2.53, p = .03). Thus, elaboration appears to mediate the relationship between message type and time spent seeking additional information. These results shed light on the important relationship between message exposure, information processing, and information seeking.