Anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty as potential risk factors for cyberchondria

J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15:174:64-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.11.023. Epub 2014 Nov 22.


Background: Online medical information seeking has become an increasingly common behavior. Despite the benefits of easily accessible medical information on the Internet, researchers have identified a vicious cycle of increased physical health concerns and online medical information seeking known as "cyberchondria". Despite proposed theoretical models of cyberchondria, there is a dearth of research investigating risk factors for the development of cyberchondria. Two potential risk factors are anxiety sensitivity (AS) and intolerance of uncertainty (IU).

Methods: The current study investigated the relationships among AS, IU, and cyberchondria in a large community sample. Participants (N=526) completed self-report questionnaires via online crowdsourcing.

Results: Structural equation models utilizing latent variables revealed a significant unique positive relationship between AS, as well as the IU Inhibitory lower-order factor, and cyberchondria, controlling for the effects of health anxiety. Additionally, results revealed a significant unique relationship between the IU Inhibitory factor and mistrust of medical professionals, a proposed cyberchondria-relevant construct.

Limitations: The cross-sectional data in the current study do not offer a true test of AS and IU as risk factors. However, establishing these unique relationships is an important step forward in the literature.

Conclusions: The results of the current study suggest the potential importance of both AS and IU in the development of cyberchondria. Future research is needed to establish the temporal precedence of elevated AS and/or IU to determine if they are true risk factors or simply correlates of cyberchondria.

Keywords: Anxiety sensitivity; Cyberchondria; Health anxiety; Intolerance of uncertainty.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / ethnology
  • Anxiety / etiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / ethnology
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Uncertainty*