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Avoiding health information in the context of uncertainty management

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Introduction. The study elaborates the picture of health-related information behaviour by exploring the reasons and strategies for avoiding information. The study draws on the ideas of uncertainty management suggesting that people reduce uncertainty because they find it threatening. However, in some instances, people avoid information so that they can manipulate uncertainty to suit their needs. Method. The empirical data were gathered by semi-structured interviews conducted with nine university students in 2007. The data were scrutinized by means of qualitative content analysis. Results. The extent of information avoidance varied from comprehensive to selective avoidance, depending on the topic of health issues and the context in which health information was provided. Health information was primarily avoided because of the risk of experiencing negative emotions such as fear, anxiety and depression, or to face information that is unsuitable for one's needs. The major avoidance strategies included intentional withdrawal from social situations, which would expose to undesired information, accessing information sources selectively, avoiding health care professionals and abstaining from thinking about health issues. Conclusions. Uncertainty management provides a relevant framework for empirical research on information avoidance as a significant constituent of information behaviour.

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