Modeling Trust in Online Social Networks to Improve Adolescent Health Behavior

Date of Submission: 
August 18, 2010
Report Number: 
10-018
Report PDF: 
Abstract: 
One of the major public health findings in recent years has been the discovery of the strong impact of an individual's social network on the individual's health as well as habits. A number of studies have shown that physical health factors such as obesity, emotional health factors such as happiness, and habits such as smoking and exercise are significantly impacted by the individual's social network. Based on this, there has been increasing interest in the application of network theory and system dynamics to the study of public health. Among a range of public health issues, adolescent health is particularly important for a number of reasons. First, given their developmental stage, adolescents are particularly sensitive to, and impacted by, their social networks. Second, many lifelong health habits or risk behaviors are established during adolescence (e.g. cigarette smoking, alcohol use). Third, adolescents represent the future workforce of the nation, thus their long-term health is critically important for the economy. This makes it especially important to study the impact of social networks on adolescent health. While the invention of the Internet, Web, mobile phones and personal digital assistants have revolutionized many walks of life, the most relevant to our present discussion is the creation of various online social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter). These sites allow new forms of person-to-person interactions, with negligible cost, low latency, and high bandwidth; with the overall effect being one of dramatically increasing the intensity and continuity of communication between people. Many end up spending more attention on online social networks, often at the expense of face-to-face interaction. While this 'attention displacement' from the physical world to the online world potentially raises interesting socio-psychological questions on its own, the fact that the online world is having a significant impact on our lives is unquestioned. Given that usage of online social networking sites is growing at a very rapid rate among adolescents, essentially having become a de facto socialization mechanism in this age group, its impact on adolescent health is expected to be commensurately high, and thus a correspondingly important area of inquiry. While on the one hand the new information and communication technologies have created the tools for new means (and kinds) of socialization, as a complement, the tremendous data collection abilities of these very same technologies provide a perfect opportunity to study these socializations at a granularity which was previously unimaginable. Use of advanced computational methods to analyze detailed behavioral data is bringing about a revolution in the way social science questions can be studied, and has led to the rapid emergence of the discipline of computational social science. ...<br />[NOTE - Abstract continues in actual report]