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Abstract

Current research on consumer health information searching focuses on users' adoption of sources or their behaviors of using a specific system. Yet, few studies take a holistic perspective to examine health information searching as a process that takes place in real life settings and the cognitive activities involved. To fill this gap, we interviewed twenty-one young consumers about their specific health information searching experiences. The results indicated that health information searching is as much social as it is private, as participants not only relied on search engines, but also consulted their close social ties and healthcare providers. When examining information from a source, participants followed a set of heuristics. When evaluating results, they initially focused on making a quick assessment of the relevance of the information, followed by an evaluation of its quality. Participants performed various cognitive activities, including building mental models, testing hypotheses, comparing and validating information, and taking mental notes, to process the information that they found. The knowledge gained from the search had an immediate impact on participants' health behaviors and health-related decisions.