How online crowds influence the way individual consumers answer health questions

An online prospective study

Annie Y S Lau, T. M Y Kwok, E. Coiera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To investigate whether strength of social feedback, i.e. other people who concur (or do not concur) with one's own answer to a question, influences the way one answers health questions. Methods: Online prospective study. Two hundred and twenty-seven undergraduate students were recruited to use an online search engine to answer six health questions. Subjects recorded their pre- and post-search answers to each question and their level of confidence in these answers. After answering each question post-search, subjects were presented with a summary of post-search answers provided by previous subjects and were asked to answer the question again. Results: There was a statistically significant relationship between the absolute number of others with a different answer (the crowd's opinion volume) and the likelihood of an individual changing an answer (P<0.001). For most questions, no subjects changed their answer until the first 10-35 subjects completed the study. Subjects' likelihood of changing answer increased as the percentage of others with a different answer (the crowd's opinion density) increased (P=0.047). Overall, 98.3% of subjects did not change their answer when it concurred with the majority (i.e. >50%) of subjects, and that 25.7% of subjects changed their answer to the majority response when it did not concur with the majority. When subjects had a post-search answer that did not concur with the majority, they were 24% more likely to change answer than those with answers that concurred (P<0.001). Conclusion: This study provides empirical evidence that crowd influence, in the form of online social feedback, affects the way consumers answer health questions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-189
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Clinical Informatics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

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