Do Facebook and Other Social Networks Influence Health and Behavior?

Development of network data and methods for the study of health and health care

Field of Work: The role social networks play in health and health care.

Problem Synopsis: People are part of social networks that can have important consequences for many aspects of human experience, including health and disease. Social network analysis looks at the effect of these networks.

Synopsis of the Work: A team at Harvard University, led by Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, built several health-related social network data sets and used them to analyze the role social networks play in health and health care. Some findings achieved national media coverage.

Key Findings

  • The research found compelling evidence that the spread of important health and behavioral phenomena from person to person exists and can be studied in social network data sets.

    Health behavior phenomena, like smoking and alcohol use, are shown to spread from person to person to person in a social network. Subjective well-being, as measured by positive answers on the depression scale used in the Framingham Heart Study, is shown to spread from person to person in a social network.

    “The body of work supported by this grant has demonstrated how the health states of one person, and thus the effects of health policy on each person, affect the health of other individuals to whom he or she is connected,” says Christakis.