Into the Unknown: Exploration of Search Engines' Responses to Users with Depression and Anxiety

Ashlee Milton, Maria Soledad Pera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Abstract

Researchers worldwide have explored the behavioral nuances that emerge from interactions of individuals afflicted by mental health disorders (MHD) with persuasive technologies, mainly social media. Yet, there is a gap in the analysis pertaining to a persuasive technology that is part of their everyday lives: web search engines (SE). Each day, users with MHD embark on information seeking journeys using popular SE, like Google or Bing. Every step of the search process for better or worse has the potential to influence a searcher's mindset. In this work, we empirically investigate what subliminal stimulus SE present to these vulnerable individuals during their searches. For this, we use synthetic queries to produce associated query suggestions and search engine results pages. Then we infer the subliminal stimulus present in text from SE, i.e., query suggestions, snippets, and web resources. Findings from our empirical analysis reveal that the subliminal stimulus displayed by SE at different stages of the information seeking process differ between MHD searchers and our control group composed of "average"SE users. Outcomes from this work showcase open problems related to query suggestions, search engine result pages, and ranking that the information retrieval community needs to address so that SE can better support individuals with MHD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number25
Number of pages29
JournalACM Transactions on the Web
Volume17
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.

Funding

Researchers worldwide have explored the behavioral nuances that emerge from interactions of individuals afflicted by mental health disorders (MHD) with persuasive technologies, mainly social media. Yet, there is a gap in the analysis pertaining to a persuasive technology that is part of their everyday lives: web search engines (SE). Each day, users with MHD embark on information seeking journeys using popular SE, like Google or Bing. Every step of the search process for better or worse has the potential to influence a searcher's mindset. In this work, we empirically investigate what subliminal stimulus SE present to these vulnerable individuals during their searches. For this, we use synthetic queries to produce associated query suggestions and search engine results pages. Then we infer the subliminal stimulus present in text from SE, i.e., query suggestions, snippets, and web resources. Findings from our empirical analysis reveal that the subliminal stimulus displayed by SE at different stages of the information seeking process differ between MHD searchers and our control group composed of "average" SE users. Outcomes from this work showcase open problems related to query suggestions, search engine result pages, and ranking that the information retrieval community needs to address so that SE can better support individuals with MHD.

Keywords

  • emotion
  • Mental health
  • sentiment
  • web search engines

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