On SAGE Insight: “Listen to your body”: Participants’ alternative to science in online health discussions

From Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine

This paper presents a discursive psychological analysis of how the idiomatic expression “Listen to Your Body” is deployed in online forum discussions about ADHD medication and aspartame. The Listen to Your Body device allows participants to demonstrate to others that they take their health seriously and for that reason avoid scientific knowledge. The friction between scientific and experiential knowledge has been a matter of concern since ancient times. Now that the Internet has become a major source of health information the online environment is a prime arena in which this friction between scientific and experiential knowledge becomes visible.

The study selected two health contexts—online conversations about ADHD medication and about the artificial sweetener aspartame—in which the relevance of “lay” knowledge versus that of scientific expertise was expected to be at the heart of participants’ negotiations. Speakers voice concerns that the available scientific information is biased because of the financial interests of pharmaceutical and food companies, respectively. A first exploratory study of online discussions on ADHD medication and aspartame brought the use of the LTYB expression to the surface. To gain more insight into the interactional dynamics surrounding this particular use of the LTYB idiom, authors performed a broader search in nine Dutch and US-based forums that contained threads about ADHD medication or aspartame or a combination of both. The threads that are presented in the analysis stem from “open” forums, which are available in the public domain.

This paper shows how participants employ LTYB to transform a personal health choice into generally valid advice while avoiding the need to refer to scientific or factual evidence. It then demonstrates how participants employ LTYB in contrast to blind trust in science, allowing the speaker to position herself as a rational actor because she is actively listening to her body rather than relying on scientific or factual sources. Speakers contrast the pure, unmediated knowledge provided by the body with the mediated and easily corruptible information provided by scientists, the government, or companies.

Abstract

We present a discursive psychological analysis of how the idiomatic expression “Listen to Your Body” is deployed in online forum discussions about ADHD medication and aspartame. The Listen to Your Body device allows participants to demonstrate to others that they take their health seriously and for that reason avoid scientific knowledge. They contrast Listen to Your Body with “blindly following science,” presenting Listen to Your Body as the more critical and, therefore, more rational behavior. Instead of treating the idiomatic expression as “anyone’s knowledge,” speakers and recipients compete for the right to own it. It is discussed what these results mean for the role of and relation between experiential knowledge (“lay expertise”) and scientific expertise in online discussions about health issues.

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Article details
“Listen to your body”: Participants’ alternative to science in online health discussions
Wytske Versteeg, Hedwig te Molder, Petra Sneijder
First Published April 12, 2017
DOI: 10.1177/1363459317695632
From Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine

     
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