Egocentric Social Network Structure, Health, and Pro-Social Behaviors in a National Panel Study of Americans

Using an online survey, researchers examined social networks of people, including the change in the number of close social contacts, tie strength or closeness; and the number of interconnections between contacts, how they are related to each other, and how they relate to measures of health and prosocial behavior.

They broadly defined prosocial behavior as “altruism and generosity, or any activity that promotes the general welfare of society, e.g., participation in community enrichment, contributions to charity, and volunteering.” For health behaviors the researchers included smoking status, BMI, whether an individual wanted to gain or lose weight, and whether they took active steps to improve their health (adhere to a diet, quit smoking, cut back on alcohol).

Key Findings:

  • The reported average closeness to all friends decreases as the number of one’s friends increases.
  • Individuals who had more friends were likely to behave more prosocially.
  • Being healthier and more prosocial was associated with the development of closer relationships, but the converse was not observed.

“An understanding of social network structure and its relationship with health and health behaviors can improve understanding of health phenomena such as collateral effects, design of health care interventions, and evaluation of health care policy studies,” the researchers conclude.