Dense Social Networks May Promote New Health Practices

Adoption of new behaviors more likely in these networks than in those with distant connections
By Beth Gilbert
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Individuals living in networks with dense clusters of connections are more likely to adopt new health practices than are those in networks with many distant connections, according to a study in the Sept. 3 issue of Science.

Damon Centola, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, ran a series of experiments using an Internet-based health community that he developed. He randomized 1,528 participants into two types of networks, including networks focused around long ties or distant connections (random networks) and those involving larger clusters of individuals. Study participants had anonymous online profiles and health interests and were matched with other participants who shared their interests.

Centola found that individuals in the cluster networks were more likely to register in the health forum than those in networks focused around long ties (54 versus 38 percent). In addition, individuals in the cluster networks adopted health practices four times faster than those in random networks. He also found that 15 percent of health forum participants with one friend in a forum returned to it. However, more than 30 percent of individuals with two friends in a forum returned to it, and over 40 percent with three friends in a forum returned to the forum.

"Individual adoption was much more likely when participants received social reinforcement from multiple neighbors in the social network," the author writes. "The behavior spread farther and faster across clustered-lattice networks than across corresponding random networks."

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