Social Network Assessments and Interventions for Health Behavior Change: A Critical Review
Social networks provide a powerful approach for health behavior change. This article documents how social network interventions have been successfully utilized for a range of health behaviors including HIV risk practices, smoking, exercise, dieting, family planning, bullying, and mental health. We review the literature that suggests relationship between health behaviors and social network attributes demonstrate a high degree of specificity. The article then examines hypothesized social influence mechanisms including social norms, modeling, and social rewards and the factors of social identity and social rewards that can be employed to sustain social network interventions. Areas of future research avenues are highlighted, including the need to examine and analytically adjust for contamination and social diffusion, social influence versus differential affiliation, and network change. Use and integration of mhealth and face-to-face networks for promoting health behavior change are also critical research areas.
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In general, “you’re 10 to 15 times as likely to buy something your friends bought because you have the same inherent preferences, and twice as likely because your friends influenced you,” Aral says. However, the level of peer influence varies by how connected the people are— fellow alumni exert more influence over one another than neighbors—and whether or not the message is personal.
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