They hope a better understanding of human interactions — both face-to-face and online — can help prevent disease and promote general health.
Whether the goal is to curb smoking at a local school or to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases within a community, it is important to understand the social structure of the group and the dynamics of influence at play, says Thomas W. Valente, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
"If I want to go into a high school and change physical activity or other obesity behaviors, I have to understand there are cliques and subgroups of students that exhibit different risks," Valente said. "I would design different interventions for the different groups. We constantly are concerned about how ineffective our interventions are — this is a big reason why those interventions are not working. We can do a much better job promoting healthy behaviors if we understand the social network contexts and design these interventions with those cues in mind."
Photos courtesy of and copyright stock.xchng, http://www.sxc.hu/