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Title: The impact of personality factors and preceding user comments on the processing of research findings on deep brain stimulation: A randomized controlled experiment in a simulated online forum.
Authors: Feinkohl, I.
Flemming, D.
Cress, U.
Kimmerle, J.
Issue Date: 2016
Abstract: Background: Laypeople frequently discuss medical research findings on Web-based platforms, but little is known about whether they grasp the tentativeness that is inherent in these findings. Potential influential factors involved in understanding medical tentativeness have hardly been assessed to date. Objective: The research presented here aimed to examine the effects of personality factors and of other users’ previous contributions in a Web-based forum on laypeople’s understanding of the tentativeness of medical research findings, using the example of research on deep brain stimulation. Methods: We presented 70 university students with an online news article that reported findings on applying deep brain stimulation as a novel therapeutic method for depression, which participants were unfamiliar with. In a randomized controlled experiment, we manipulated the forum such that the article was either accompanied by user comments that addressed the issue of tentativeness, by comments that did not address this issue, or the article was accompanied by no comments at all. Participants were instructed to write their own individual user comments. Their scientific literacy, epistemological beliefs, and academic self-efficacy were measured. The outcomes measured were perceived tentativeness and tentativeness addressed in the participants’ own comments. Results: More sophisticated epistemological beliefs enhanced the perception of tentativeness (standardized P = .26, P = .034). Greater scientific literacy (stand. P = .25, P = .025) and greater academic self-efficacy (stand. P = .31, P = .007) were both predictors of a more extensive discussion of tentativeness in participants’ comments. When forum posts presented in the experiment addressed the issue of tentativeness, participants’ subsequent behavior tended to be consistent with what they had read in the forum, F2,63 = 3.66; P = .049, qp²=.092. Conclusions: Students’ understanding of the tentativeness of research findings on deep brain stimulation in an online forum is influenced by a number of character traits and by the previous comments that were contributed to the forum by other users. There is potential for targeted modification of traits such as scientific literacy, epistemological beliefs, and academic self-efficacy to foster critical thinking in laypeople who take part in online discussions of medical research findings. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)
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