Sensible Use(rs) and the Construction of Self-Identity in Research Interviews

A Qualitative Exploration of how Middle-Aged and Older Adults Search for and Use Online Health Information




online health information, self-identity, impression management, third-person effect, middle-aged, older adults, Belgium


As a much-used data collection method in qualitative research, interviewing is a primary way to make sense of social life. However, critics point out that interviews are often used uncritically and unreflectively, without considering epistemological foundations and self-presentation efforts by interviewees. By way of a two-step, theory-driven qualitative thematic analysis, this study examines how Belgian middle-aged and older adults (51-79 years old) construct their self-identity in research interviews as sensible internet users with regards to online health information (OHI) and their motivations for doing so. The findings are underpinned by a theoretical framework which enhances impression management (IM) theory with the third-person effect (TPE). The study finds that respondents engage in various IM behaviours, including instances of the TPE, to maximise positive impressions and minimise negative impressions. Through IM, interviewees 1) respond to critical questions; 2) proactively demonstrate knowledge, accomplishments, and positive outcomes; 3) compare and distance oneself from others; and 4) communicate limitations and offer external explanations. The findings contribute to the scant literature on IM in research interviews and among older adults and carry various implications for the field of health communication and beyond, such as the importance of critically reflecting on interviewing and going beyond the face value of the data.


Antonopoulos, N., Veglis, A., Gardikiotis, A., Kotsakis, R., & Kalliris, G. (2015). Web third-person effect in structural aspects of the information on media websites. Computers in Human Behavior, 44, 48-58.

Atkinson, P., & Silverman, D. (1997). Kundera’s immortality: The interview society and the invention of the self. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(3), 304-325.

Bolino, M. C., Kacmar, K. M., Turnley, W. H., & Gilstrap, J. B. (2008). A multi-level review of impression management motives and behaviors. Journal of Management, 34(6), 1080-1109.

Boyatzis, R. E. (1998). Transforming qualitative information: Thematic analysis and code development. Sage.

Davison, W. P. (1983). The third-person effect in communication. Public Opinion Quarterly, 47(1), 1-15.

DeLorme, D. E., Huh, J., & Reid, L. N. (2006). Perceived effects of direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertising on self and others: A third-person effect study of older consumers. Journal of Advertising, 35(3), 47-65.

DeLorme, D. E., Huh, J., & Reid, L. N. (2007). “Others are influenced, but not me”: Older adults’ perceptions of DTC prescription drug advertising effects. Journal of Aging Studies, 21(2), 135-151.

Dijkstra, W., Smit, J. H., & Comijs, H. C. (2001). Using social desirability scales in research among the elderly. Quality and Quantity, 35(1), 107-115.

Donovan, E. E., Miller, L. E., & Goldsmith, D. J. (2014). “Tell me about a time when...”: Studying health communication through in-depth interviews. In B. B. Whaley (Ed.), Research methods in health communication: Principles and application (pp. 21-40). Routledge.

DuBrin, A. J. (2011). Impression management in the workplace: Research, theory, and practice. Routledge.

Ellis, A. P. J., West, B. J., Ryan, A. M., & DeShon, R. P. (2002). The use of impression management tactics in structured interviews. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(6), 1200-1208.

Eysenbach, G., & Köhler, C. (2002). How do consumers search for and appraise health information on the world wide web? Qualitative study using focus groups, usability tests, and in­depth interviews. British Medical Journal, 324(7337), 573-577.

Fastame, M. C., & Penna, M. P. (2012). Does social desirability confound the assessment of self-reported measures of well-being and metacognitive efficiency in young and older adults? Clinical Gerontologist, 35(3), 239-256.

Franz, R. L., Baecker, R., & Truong, K. N. (2018). “I knew that, I was just testing you”: Understanding older adults’ impression management tactics during usability studies. ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS), 11(3), 1-23.

Gioaba, I., & Krings, F. (2017). Impression management in the job interview: An effective way of mitigating discrimination against older applicants? Frontiers in Psychology, 8.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Doubleday.

Gubrium, J. F., & Holstein, J. A. (2012). Narrative practice and the transformation of interview subjectivity. In J. F. Gubrium, J. A. Holstein, A. B. Marvasti, & K. D. McKinney (Eds.), Handbook of interview research (2nd ed., pp. 27-44). Sage.

Hammersley, M. (2003). Recent radical criticism of interview studies: Any implications for the sociology of education? British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24(1), 119-126.

Heaton, J. (2004). Reworking qualitative data. Sage.

Huisman, M., Joye, S., & Biltereyst, D. (2019). Searching for health: Doctor Google and the shifting dynamics of the middle-aged and older adult patient–physician relationship and interaction. Journal of Aging and Health, 32(9), 998-1007.

Johnson, J. D. & Case, D. O. (2012). Health information seeking. Peter Lang.

Lee, H., & Park, S-A. (2016). Third-person effect and pandemic flu: The role of severity, self-efficacy method mentions, and message source. Journal of Health Communication, 21(12), 1244-1250.

Mann, S. (2016). The research interview: Reflective practice and reflexivity in research processes. Palgrave Macmillan.

Martin, K. A., Leary, M. R., & Rejeski, W. J. (2000). Self-presentational concerns in older adults: Implications for health and well-being. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 22(3), 169-179.

Nettleton, S., Burrows, R., & O’Malley, L. (2005). The mundane realities of the everyday lay use of the internet for health, and their consequences for media convergence. Sociology of Health & Illness, 27(7), 972-992.

Perloff, R. M. (2009). Mass media, social perception, and the third person effect. In J. Bryant & M. B. Oliver (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 252-268). Routledge.

Ray, J. J. (1988). Lie scales and the elderly. Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, 9(2), 417-418.

Schlenker, B. R. (1980). Impression management: The self-concept, social identity, and interpersonal relations. Brooks/Cole.

Schlenker, B. R. (2011). Self-presentation. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (2nd ed., pp. 492-518). Guilford Press.

Stavrositu, C. D., & Kim, J. (2014). Social media metrics: Third-person perceptions of health information. Computers in Human Behavior, 35, 61-67.

Tal-Or, N., Tsfati, Y., & Gunther, A. C. (2009). The influence of presumed media influence: Origins and implications of the third-person perception. In R. L. Nabi & M. B. Oliver (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of media processes and effects (pp. 99-112). Sage.

Tan, S. S., & Goonawardene, N. (2017). Internet health information seeking and the patient-physician relationship: A systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(1), Article e9.

Tedeschi, J. T., & Riess, M. (1981). Identities, the phenomenal self, and laboratory research. In J. T. Tedeschi (Ed.), Impression management and social psychological research (pp. 3-22). Academic Press.

Uziel, L. (2010). Rethinking social desirability scales: From impression management to interpersonally oriented self-control. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(3), 243-262.

Wei, R., Lo, V. H., & Lu, H. Y. (2008). Third-person effects of health news: Exploring the relationships among media exposure, presumed media influence, and behavioral intentions. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(2), 261-277.




How to Cite

Huisman, M., Cuelenaere, E., Joye, S., & Biltereyst, D. (2021). Sensible Use(rs) and the Construction of Self-Identity in Research Interviews: A Qualitative Exploration of how Middle-Aged and Older Adults Search for and Use Online Health Information. European Journal of Health Communication, 2(2), 44–65.