Emotions Expressed in Online Discussion Forums are Associated with Information Poverty and Level of Information Need
A Review of:
Ruthven, I., Buchanan, S., & Jardine, C. (2018). Isolated, overwhelmed, and worried: Young first-time mothers asking for information and support online. Journal of the Association for Information Science & Technology, 69(9), 1073-1083. https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.24037
Objective – To understand the emotions associated with online forum requests for information from young first-time mothers.
Design – Naturalistic study of existing online forum postings.
Setting – Two UK-based online discussion forums intended for use by young mothers.
Subjects – Two hundred thirty-seven young (aged 14 to 21) first-time mothers, who posted 279 messages in the two forums.
Methods – The 279 messages were categorized in terms of 1) the type of emotion expressed, using an inductively developed coding scheme that included interaction emotions, preoccupation emotions, and response emotions; 2) four dimensions of information poverty: secrecy, deception, risk, and situational relevance; and 3) whether the information request expressed a conscious or a formalized information need. In addition to analyzing the frequency with which particular emotions occurred, co-occurrences of emotions with information poverty dimensions and emotions with level of information need were analyzed.
Main Results – As expected, most of the forum posts included expressions of emotions. Interaction emotions relate to the mother’s interactions (or lack of them) with other people and were expressed in 75 of the posts; the most frequently expressed interaction emotions were feelings of isolation and being judged. Preoccupation emotions are concerned with states of mental absorption or uncertainty and were expressed in 141 of the posts; the most frequently expressed preoccupation emotions were worry, a feeling of being overwhelmed, and self-doubt. Response emotions include reactions to someone else or a situation and were expressed in 45 of the posts; the most frequently expressed response emotion was anger, frustration, or venting (which were handled as one unit by the authors).
Dimensions of information poverty were found in 57 of the 279 posts in the sample. Situational relevance (i.e., the desire for support or information from someone that is in a very similar situation) accounted for over half of the instances of information poverty. The risks associated with young motherhood were expressed in over a quarter of the instances of information poverty.
Emotions were more likely to be expressed when the post included evidence of information poverty. When posts of conscious and formalized needs were compared, emotions were more likely to be expressed in posts of conscious needs (i.e., those which had not yet been formalized).
Conclusion – Almost all of the 279 posts in the sample included strong emotional content, mostly negative emotions such as worry, isolation, and frustration. These emotions were associated with expressions of information poverty; in particular, feelings of isolation were closely associated with information poverty. In addition, posters at an early stage of problem recognition, expressing a conscious but not yet formalized information need, were more likely to experience these negative emotions. These findings have strong implications for moderators of online forums hoping to provide support to young first-time mothers.
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