A new study suggest people are turning to online social networks for support and advice prior to serious medical interventions.
Despite the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, scientists are only beginning to learn how they affect human interaction and influence human behavior.
In the study, Dartmouth researchers examined nearly 9,000 Facebook conversations to better understand how people seek and receive support on social networking sites.
“Among the many Facebook conversations that were mostly casual, we noticed more serious exchanges among people who mentioned a major medical event, such as surgery,” said Dr. Denise Anthony, professor of sociology at Dartmouth.
Study findings have been published by the journal Social Science & Medicine.
Researchers examined Facebook conversations among approximately 33,000 people who gave permission to be monitored for a six-month period.
During this period, nearly 4,000 people posted something about surgery. When the researchers examined the conversations where the initial posts mentioned surgery, they discovered that posts referencing a family member triggered much greater response via comments on that post.
The researchers also reported a common pattern of call-and-response in asking for and offering prayers.
“In our data, many individuals talking about surgery would ask for prayers in their initial post. These posts received more responses in the form of digital prayers in reply,” said Anthony.
While the study is just the first step in directly observing social support on Facebook, the researchers say that future studies are needed to understand how support garnered on social networking sites translates to the real world.
“Our research suggests that resources in the offline world that are associated with greater social support and better health outcomes, like income, appear to translate into greater social support online as well,” said Anthony.
Despite the benefits of online support, the link with social economic status suggests greater inspection of this form of social support is required.
“It is important to understand such patterns, because if inequality in the offline world translates into differential resources online, especially those that affect health over time, then new technologies like social network sites could exacerbate rather than reduce health disparities.”
Source: Dartmouth University/EurekAlert!