Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Computer Science


Computer Science

Major Advisor

Maria Soledad Pera, Ph.D.


Michael Ekstrand, Ph.D.


Francesca Spezzano, Ph.D.


Mental health disorders (MHD) are a rising, yet stigmatized, topic. With statistics reporting that one in five adults in the United States will be afflicted by a MHD in their lifetime, researchers have begun exploring the behavioral nuances that emerge from interactions of these individuals 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: search engines (SE). Each day, users with MHD embark on information seeking journeys using SE. Every step of the search process for better or worse has the potential to influence a searcher’s state of mind. In this thesis work, we empirically investigate what subliminal stimulus SE present to these vulnerable individuals during their searches. We do so by utilizing an information retrieval foundation that leverages data and techniques from psychology, social media, and natural language processing. 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.


Available for download on Tuesday, August 01, 2023