Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


How do Chinese college students seek information to prevent unwanted pregnancy? A study of online information seeking for contraception

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Louisa Ha (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Rick Busselle (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Kate Magsamen-Conrad (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Joseph Chao (Other)


Online information seeking and online health information seeking are common practices today with the availability and prevalent use of the Internet and digital devices. People who are seeking health information online not only benefit from gaining or improving knowledge about health topics, diseases, treatments, and getting social support, they may also benefit from making well-informed and deliberate health decisions. Many studies showed that young people have great interest in online health information seeking, including sexual health knowledge and contraceptive methods. What prompts them to seek information to prevent unwanted pregnancy, and what influences their device preference for obtaining the information, is unknown.

This study applied Planned Risk Information Seeking Model (PRISM), proposed by Kahlor (2010), to investigate Chinese young people’s risk perception of and affective response to unwanted pregnancy and how unwanted pregnancy as a health hazard, together with other cognitive and motivational factors, predict people’s information seeking intention of contraception. To better understand people’s online information seeking, the proposed research model of this study expanded PRISM to further explore people’s using intention of digital devices (computers/laptops and smartphones) as information seeking channels and their device preference when they intend to seek contraceptive information.

The most important finding in this study is that Chinese college students prefer using a smartphone when they have the intention to seek contraceptive information on the Internet, and when both computers/laptops and smartphones are accessible digital devices to them. At the same time, in general Chinese college students rate computers as their preferred devices to seek contraceptive information. Perceived online information seeking control plays crucial roles in mediating information seeking attitude and in predicting people’s online contraceptive information seeking intention, and it directly affects people’s channel beliefs. The mediating effect impact of perceived seeking control on information seeking intention on devices is also highlighted as the most prominent indirect effect. This study also shows that perceived vulnerability to unwanted pregnancy rather than perceived severity of unwanted pregnancy is a significant predictor of people’s contraceptive information seeking on the Internet. Hence it is more important to emphasize the likelihood of getting pregnant in sex education campaigns targeting young people in order to motivate their needs to seek information and learn more about contraception. In addition, although the study sample included both male and female college students, there were no significant differences in their information seeking attitudes and intentions despite male students reporting feeling higher information seeking control and vulnerability than female students on these topics. Implications of the findings for sex education campaigns related to contraceptives and optimizing information online for various devices are discussed.