Information-Seeking, Online Search Tools, and the Formation of New Norms in Health Behaviors during the Covid-19 Pandemic
AuthorGonzalez, Kelsey Elizabeth
Information & Communication Technologies
AdvisorBreiger, Ronald L.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation focuses on how people search for information and how people rely on this information to inform their health behaviors and develop social norms. In academia and policy, the focus in research on information has most often studied the information that is sent to consumers, seeing people as passive receivers of information. This is otherwise known as information 'push'. But, information is also intentionally sought out by individuals; called information pull. My dissertation focuses on individuals as active agents in their search for information and how the information discovered through these push and pull processes relates to the creation of social norms. My first article tests the criterion validity of Google Search Trends as an indicator of computer-mediated information search. I attempt to validate Google Search Trends for use as indicators of attitudes, disease prevalence and political preferences using five different data sources. My analysis revealed no correlation among any of the Google Trends tested and their validated indicators. I demonstrate that there is no criterion validity of Google Trends for the selected cases and social scientists will find no replacement for high quality survey data with Google Trends. Instead, we must only use Google Trends to demonstrate interest or attention. Knowing that Google Trends data only encompasses a small portion of the information-seeking done by modern humans, my second article is motivated by the research question: How do computer-mediated or interpersonal information-seeking strategies vary across populations? Using original survey data of 948 Americans, I investigate their experiences seeking out information about COVID-19 vaccines. I investigate five distinct information seeking modalities, or methods of searching for information: personal connection, doctor, social networking site, online forum, and online search engine. I find that different exposure points, the ways people first are exposed to information without searching for it, and information search modalities hold real world consequences through their associations with COVID-19 vaccinationintentions and rates. For example, I find that receiving or seeking out information from a doctor increases COVID-19 vaccination uptake while receiving information from a social networking site is associated with lower odds of vaccination. My final article takes a deeper dive into the formation of social norms governing health behaviors in cases of extreme uncertainty. I specifically use the cases of stay-at-home rates and vaccination rates as responses to public health recommendations to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the theories of associative diffusion and the integrated theoretical framework of norms, I test models of behavioral adaption to public health recommendations and patterns of complex contagion (the need for repeated exposures to something novel for it to diffuse) using linear mixed effects models. My results show that complex contagion is a valid framework for the social contagion of new norms during COVID-19. However, I find an important novel moderating effect of signal discordance; if there is diversity in the information received by an ego, contagion is less likely to occur. This paper shows that the contagion process is not fully understood without looking at the context of each exposure to a contagion within the range of contagions one experiences. The introductory chapter provides a summary of the research and an explanation of how this research contributes to sociology, social science, and society. Namely, this paper provides important perspectives on search as an agentic process and how the micro-level information seeking process of an individual can lead to macro-level social norms. I show that information diffusion is disrupted when conflicting information and behaviors are simultaneously diffusing and therein contribute to research on diffusion, social networks, and social norms.
Degree ProgramGraduate College