The VICE Channels

    Why WebMD Is Totally Terrifying Sometimes

    Written by

    Lex Berko


    Image via Porsche Brosseau on Flickr.

    I always make the mistake of Googling my symptoms when I don’t feel well. This is never a good plan. On occassion, I’ve managed to convince myself that my migraine was actually a malignant brain tumor and that the fuzziness in my eye was the first stage to blindness.

    Now science has delved into this phenomenon, known as cyberchondria, to better understand why some of us get so totally freaked by sites like WebMD while others manage to maintain their cool.   

    According to new research published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking by Thomas A. Fergus of Baylor University, those of us who already dislike uncertainty in our lives are more prone to get totally overwhelmed by searching for medical information on the internet. Our instinct is to quell our anxiety by researching symptoms, but paradoxically, it only makes it worse.

    Fergus examined 512 subjects. In order to minimize pre-existing anxiety associated with medical conditions, he focused on people with no reported health concerns. Using a series of measures, he evaluated the IU, or intolerance of uncertainty, for each, along with the degree of health anxiety they experienced after an medically-relevant internet search.

    “The relationship between the frequency of searching for medical information on the internet and health anxiety grew increasingly stronger as IU increased,” Fergus wrote in his report. “One tenable reason for this finding is that individuals with high IU experience heightened levels of anxiety when faced with multiple possibilities.”

    It’s good to know a little more about the tendency some of us have to torture ourselves with ambiguous internet medical knowledge. It may even guide us to appropriate interventions, suggests Fergus, ones that might stop the endless cycle of Googling, doctors appointments, more Googling, and more doctors appointments. Until then, against my better judgment, I’ll probably keep scaring the shit out of myself with Google searches every time I'm under the weather.