The Strategic Use of Self-Disclosure in Health 2.0 Communities

Jeana H. Frost* Jeana H. Frost*, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Ivar E. Vermeulen, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Track: Research
Presentation Topic: Building virtual communities and social networking applications for patients and consumers
Presentation Type: Oral presentation
Submission Type: Single Presentation

Building: Sol Principe
Room: C - Almudaina
Date: 2014-10-10 09:45 AM – 10:30 AM
Last modified: 2014-09-10

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For Health 2.0 communities to function, users must get responses to health problems in a timely manner. This project explores the use of self-disclosure as a tactic to elicit these responses. Self-disclosure is well studied in the area of interpersonal communication and relationship formation. Self-disclosure builds trust, intimacy and more importantly for the current study, is generally met in kind, garnering reciprocity in others. In offline dyadic relationships, self-disclosure typically occurs slowly over time as the relationship progresses. Offline, providing too much information too quickly tends to result in negative consequences for the relationship. In online communities, disclosure can occur more quickly as people feel safer disclosing information when their identities remain unknown. Yet, even within these environments, levels of self-disclosure differ depending on the needs of the members and the norms of the community. People tend to weigh the risk of disclosing information against the (social) benefits disclosure may provide (Frost, Vermeulen, in press). In the current paper, we suggest that members of online communities use self-disclosure strategically, heightening or lowering the disclosure level depending on the urgency of the problem to be addressed. To test our hypothesis, we conduct an empirical study of current health 2.0 community members.

The study recruits active members of Health 2.0 communities. Participants answer basic demographics questions, read one of two scenarios (either describing an urgent health problem or a less urgent one), draft a forum post and complete a manipulation check.

All participants are asked to think about a scenario in which they are feeling overwhelmed and moody and find themselves lashing out at colleagues, putting their job at risk. In the urgent condition, participants are told they have several important meetings in the next couple of days and need to figure out some coping mechanisms quickly to avoid further problems. In the less urgent condition, participants are told that they have several important meetings in the next couple of months and need to figure out some coping mechanisms before that time. The gender in the scenario is matched to the gender of the respondent.

All participants are then tasked with writing a forum post that they might use to garner the information needed to address the stated problem. In line with previous work by Barak and Gluck-Ofri (2007), posts are coded by two trained independent coders for level of personal disclosure in three areas (information, thoughts and feelings) and the use of first person pronouns. Post length is calculated.

The outcome measures: personal disclosure levels, use of first person pronouns and post length are compared across conditions. We hypothesize that in the urgent problem condition, participants will write longer posts, use more first person pronouns and disclose more personal information than when writing about less urgent problems.

The success of Health 2.0 applications depends on members receiving pertinent information to solve real-world problems. One barrier to this success is that members may not know how to elicit the responses they need from others. In this study, we document the use of disclosure to signal the need for help in discussions about the health problems of highest importance to members.

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