1. Study suggests night owls have larger social networks than early birds

    December 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Aalto University press release:

    Using anonymous mobile phone data, Aalto University doctoral researcher Talayeh Aledavood has tapped into patterns in people’s behaviour. She has found out that our ‘chronotypes‘ — our inherent periods of sleep during a 24-hour-period — correlate with the size of our social networks and how much we are in contact with others and also the kind of chronotypes with whom we interact.

    Night owls — people who go to sleep late — tend to have wider social networks than morning persons. Night owls are also more central in their own networks and — distinctively more than early birds — stick to their kind and interact with others who stay up late.

    “The digital breadcrumbs our daily phone use leaves behind can be used to monitor our behaviour. They provide a picture of our activities, movements, and communication,” says Aledavood.

    In her dissertation, Aledavood has used such digital traces to investigate people’s patterns of behaviour. Times of sleep can be inferred from periods of no smartphone use. The timing of calls made to friends and the size of our social networks, based on calls, texts, or emails, reveal our social habits. It’s a lot harder to get accurate information like this from, for example, surveys, and it’s possible to widen the scope of the study up to entire countries.

    How to use mobile data in mental health care

    While providing interesting knowledge of our sleep patterns’ correlations with social interactions and networks, Aledavood’s research has wider implications. Her findings may very well open a way to understand and treat mental health issues.

    Data collected and linked together from mobile devices, active social media use and other digital platforms could work as indicators for different mental disorders. Aledavood has outlined a method to collect data for this purpose.

    “There are no clear-cut biomarkers for detecting mental disorders as there are for diabetes or tumours, so you have to find new ways to seek them out. Disruptions in sleep rhythms can indicate several mental disorders, and my plan is to infer these disturbances from data collected from people’s use of digital devices,” Aledavood explains.

    Aledavood’s ultimate goal is to develop automated systems that can help patients to seek professional help before their condition turns severe. Making visualisations, for example, from the data collected could assist health care professionals to get an in-depth view of their patient’s condition.

    Privacy has to be built in

    Aledavood stresses that the privacy and information security of all study participants and particularly patients are crucial.

    “The data collection method we have developed has been designed to secure people’s privacy from the get-go. Privacy matters of course in all walks of our digital lives, and unlike the multitude of openly available mobile phone apps that are not scientifically validated or ethically approved, future research and clinical use of our methods will go through strict ethical evaluation. We have to be sure that a data collecting method or app is actually beneficial for a patient’s well-being and treatment,” Aledavood reminds.


  2. Study suggests microblogging may help reduce negative emotions for people with social anxiety

    December 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology press release:

    Have you ever wanted to tell someone about a tough day at work or scary medical news, but felt nervous about calling a friend to share what’s going on?

    Findings from a new study suggest that people who feel apprehensive about one-on-one interactions are taking advantage of a new form of communication that may help regulate emotions during times of need: online social networks. The study is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    “When people feel badly, they have a need to reach out to others because this can help reduce negative emotions and restore a sense of well-being,” says Eva Buechel, a professor in the business school at the University of South Carolina. “But talking to someone face-to-face or on the phone might feel daunting because people may worry that they are bothering them. Sharing a status update on Facebook or tweet on Twitter allows people to reach out to a large audience in a more undirected manner.”

    Sharing short messages to an audience on a social network, called microblogging, allows people to reach out without imposing unwanted communication on someone who might feel obligated to respond. Responses on online social networks are more voluntary. To test whether people are more likely to microblog when they feel socially apprehensive, Buechel asked participants in one group to write about a time when they had no one to talk to at a party, while the control group wrote about office products.

    Then she asked the participants who had an online social network account to log in and spend two minutes on their preferred social network. When the time ended, she asked people if they had microblogged. The results showed that those who had been led to feel socially apprehensive were more likely to microblog.

    To explore who is more likely to microblog, Buechel conducted another experiment in which one group of participants watched a clip from the movie “Silence of the Lambs,” while the control group watched clips of pictures from space. Then they answered questions about how likely they were to express themselves in three different forms of communication: microblogging, in person or direct message (a private online message to an individual). Finally, she asked people to answer a series of questions that measured their level of social anxiety in a variety of situations.

    Buechel discovered that people who were higher on the social apprehension scale were more likely to microblog after they had experienced negative emotions (as a result of watching the “Silence of The Lambs” clip). People who were low on the social apprehension scale, however, were more interested in sharing face-to-face or via direct message after watching the scary clip.

    “There is a lot of research showing that sharing online is less ideal than having communication in person, but these social networks could be an important communication channel for certain individuals who would otherwise stay isolated,” she says.

    She acknowledges that there is a danger for those who start to rely on social media as their only form of communication, but when used wisely, microblogging can be a valuable means of buffering negative emotions though social interaction.


  3. Study suggests major life events shared on social media revive dormant connections

    by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

    Online social networking has revolutionized the way people communicate and interact with one another, despite idiosyncrasies we all love to hate — think top-10 lists of the most annoying people and habits on social media.

    However, there are specific advantages to using social media, beyond the simple joys — and occasional annoyances — of reconnecting and gossiping with old friends about babies, birthdays and baptisms.

    New research from the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business examines the impact of major life events, such as getting married or graduating from college, on social network evolution, which, the study shows, has important implications for business practices, such as in marketing.

    “Who Cares About Your Big Day? Impact of Life Events on Dynamics of Social Networks,” forthcoming in Decision Sciences by Hong Guo, associate professor of business analytics, and Sarv Devaraj, professor of business, (along with Arati Srinivasan of Providence College), shows that major life events not only get more social media attention overall, but also bring long dormant connections back into social interaction.

    The researchers specifically focus on two key characteristics of individuals’ social networks: indegree of ties and relational embeddedness. Indegree is the number of ties directed to an individual. Those with high indegree centrality are assumed to be the most popular, prestigious and powerful people in a network due to the many connections that they have with others.

    “We find that the indegree of ties increases significantly following a major life event, and that this impact is stronger for more active users in the network,” Guo says. “Interestingly, we find that the broadcast of major life events helps to revive dormant ties as reflected by a decrease in embeddedness following a life event.”

    Relational embeddedness is the extent to which a user communicates with only a subset of partners. Social networking sites allow users to manage a larger network of weak ties and at the same time provide a mechanism for the very rapid dissemination of information pertaining to important life events such as engagements, weddings or births.

    “We show that major events provide an opportunity for users to revive communication with their dormant ties while simultaneously eliciting responses or communication from a user’s passive or weak ties,” Guo says. “Increased communication with weak ties thereby reduces the extent of embeddedness. We also find that one-time life events, such as weddings, have a greater impact than recurring life events like birthdays on the evolution of individuals’ social networks.”

    So why does this matter outside of our social media circles?

    “Knowing this, advertisers may better target their ads to major life events. For example, a travel agent marketing a honeymoon package can target a user who has shared that they just got married,” Guo says. “From the social networking sites’ perspective, various design features may be set up to enable and entice users to better share their life events, like how Facebook helps friends promote birthdays.”


  4. Study suggests Twitter can reveal our shared mood

    by Ashley

    From the University of Bristol press release:

    In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns of positive and negative moods over the 24-hour day.

    Circadian rhythms, widely referred to as the ‘body clock’, allows people’s bodies to predict their needs over the dark and light periods of the day. Most of this circadian activity is regulated by a small region in the hypothalamus of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is particularly sensitive to light changes at dawn and dusk, and sends signals through nerves and hormones to every tissue in the body.

    The research team looked at the use of words relating to positive and negative emotions, sadness, anger, and fatigue in Twitter over the course of four years. The public expressions of affect and fatigue were linked to the time they appeared on the social platform to reveal changes within the 24-hours. Whilst previous studies have shown a circadian variation for positive and negative emotions the current study was able to differentiate specific aspects of anger, sadness, and fatigue.

    Lead author and machine learning researcher Dr Fabon Dzogang, in collaboration with neuroscientist and current British Neuroscience Association President, Professor Stafford Lightman from Bristol Medical School: THS, and Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence from the Department of Engineering Mathematics, have found distinct patterns of positive emotions and sadness between the weekends and the weekdays, and evidence of variation of these patterns across the seasons.

    Dr Fabon Dzogang, research associate in the Department of Computer Science, said: “Our research revealed strong circadian patterns for both positive and negative moods. The profiles of anger and fatigue were found remarkably stable across the seasons or between the weekdays/weekend. The patterns that our research revealed for the positive emotions and sadness showed more variability in response to these changing conditions, and higher levels of interaction with the onset of sunlight exposure. These techniques that we demonstrated on the social media provide valuable tools for the study of our emotions, and for the understanding of their interaction within the circadian rhythm.”

    Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine and co-author, added: “Since many mental health disorders are affected by circadian rhythms, we hope that this study will encourage others to use social media to help in our understanding of the brain and mental health disorders.”


  5. Study suggests materialists collect Facebook friends and spend more time on social media

    November 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    If you’re materialistic, you’re likely to use Facebook more frequently and intensely. A new paper in Heliyon reveals that materialistic people see and treat their Facebook friends as “digital objects,” and have significantly more friends than people who are less interested in possessions. It also shows that materialists have a greater need to compare themselves with others on Facebook.

    The study reveals that materialistic people use Facebook to both achieve their goals and feel good. The authors of the paper, from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, have developed a new theory to explain this: The Social Online Self-Regulation Theory.

    “Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends — they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possession,” said lead author Phillip Ozimek. “Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it’s free — materialists love tools that do not cost money!”

    The researchers first conducted an online questionnaire with 242 Facebook users. The questionnaire asked participants to rate their agreement with statements in order to calculate their Facebook activity (such as “I’m posting photographs”), social comparison orientation (“I often compare how I am doing socially”), materialism (“My life would be better if I owned certain things I don’t have”), objectification of Facebook friends (“Having many Facebook friends contributes more success in my personal and professional life”) and instrumentalization of Facebook friends (“To what extent do you think Facebook friends are useful in order to attain your goals?”).

    The results suggested that the link between materialism and Facebook activity can be partly explained by materialists displaying a stronger social comparison orientation, having more Facebook friends, and objectifying and instrumentalizing their friends more intensely.

    The authors replicated the approach with a separate sample of 289 Facebook users, containing fewer students and more males than the first sample, and they reached the same conclusions. The Social Online Self-Regulation Theory they developed extends this further, saying that social media is a tool for achieving important goals in life. For materialists, Facebook is a tool to learn how far away they are from their goal to become wealthy.

    The researchers emphasize that their results should not cast social media in a negative light; instead, they assume people use platforms like Facebook to feel good, have fun and achieve their goals.

    “Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life — they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life, and some might have negative consequences for them or society,” Ozimek explained. “We found that materialists instrumentalize their friends, but they also attain their goal to compare themselves to others. It seems to us that Facebook is like a knife: it can be used for preparing yummy food or it can be used for hurting a person. In a way, our model provides a more neutral perspective on social media.”


  6. Study looks at language often used by people with ADHD on Twitter

    November 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pennsylvania press release:

    What can Twitter reveal about people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD? Quite a bit about what life is like for someone with the condition, according to findings published by University of Pennsylvania researchers Sharath Chandra Guntuku and Lyle Ungar in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Twitter data might also provide clues to help facilitate more effective treatments.

    “On social media, where you can post your mental state freely, you get a lot of insight into what these people are going through, which might be rare in a clinical setting,” said Guntuku, a postdoctoral researcher working with the World Well-Being Project in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health. “In brief 30- or 60-minute sessions with patients, clinicians might not get all manifestations of the condition, but on social media you have the full spectrum.”

    Guntuku and Ungar, a professor of computer and information science with appointments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Arts and Sciences, the Wharton School and Penn Medicine, turned to Twitter to try to understand what people with ADHD spend their time talking about. The researchers collected 1.3 million publicly available tweets posted by almost 1,400 users who had self-reported diagnoses of ADHD, plus an equivalent control set that matched the original group in age, gender and duration of overall social-media activity. They then ran models looking at factors like personality and posting frequency.

    “Some of the findings are in line with what’s already known in the ADHD literature,” Guntuku said. For example, social-media posters in the experimental group often talked about using marijuana for medicinal purposes. “Our coauthor, Russell Ramsay, who treats people with ADHD, said this is something he’s observed in conversations with patients,” Guntuku added.

    The researchers also found that people with ADHD tended to post messages related to lack of focus, self-regulation, intention and failure, as well as expressions of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. They often used words like “hate,” “disappointed,” “cry” and “sad” more frequently than the control group and often posted during hours of the day when the majority of people sleep, from midnight to 6 a.m.

    “People with ADHD are experiencing more mood swings and more negativity,” Ungar said. “They tend to have problems self-regulating.”

    This could partially explain why they enjoy social media’s quick feedback loop, he said. A well-timed or intriguing tweet could yield a positive response within minutes, propelling continued use of the online outlet.

    Using information gleaned from this study and others, Ungar and Guntuku said they plan to build condition-specific apps that offer insight into several conditions, including ADHD, stress, anxiety, depression and opioid addiction. They aim to factor in facets of individuals, their personality or how severe their ADHD is, for instance, as well as what triggers particular symptoms.

    The applications will also include mini-interventions. A recommendation for someone who can’t sleep might be to turn off the phone an hour before going to bed. If anxiety or stress is the major factor, the app might suggest an easy exercise like taking a deep breath, then counting to 10 and back to zero.

    “If you’re prone to certain problems, certain things set you off; the idea is to help set you back on track,” Ungar said.

    Better understanding ADHD has the potential to help clinicians treat such patients more successfully, but having this information also has a downside: It can reveal aspects of a person’s personality unintentionally, simply by analyzing words posted on Twitter. The researchers also acknowledge that the 50-50 split of ADHD to non-ADHD study participants isn’t true to life; only about 8 percent of adults in the U.S. have the disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In addition, people in this study self-reported an ADHD diagnosis rather than having such a determination come from a physician interaction or medical record.

    Despite these limitations, the researchers say the work has strong potential to help clinicians understand the varying manifestations of ADHD, and it could be used as a complementary feedback tool to give ADHD sufferers personal insights.

    “The facets of better-studied conditions like depression are pretty well understood,” Ungar said. “ADHD is less well studied. Understanding the components that some people have or don’t have, the range of coping mechanisms that people use — that all leads to a better understanding of the condition.”


  7. Study suggests effectiveness of online social networks designed to help smokers quit

    November 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Iowa press release:

    Online social networks designed to help smokers kick the tobacco habit are effective, especially if users are active participants, according to a new study from the University of Iowa and the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit anti-tobacco organization.

    The study examined the tobacco use of more than 2,600 smokers who participated in BecomeAnEX.org, Truth Initiative’s online smoking cessation community designed in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. The study found that 21 percent of those classified as active users after their first week in the community reported that they quit smoking three months later. Those who were less active in the community were less likely to quit.

    Kang Zhao, assistant professor of management sciences in the UI Tippie College of Business and the study’s co-author, says the results show that online interactions can predict offline behavior.

    How central you become in the online social network after the first week is a good indicator of whether you will quit smoking,” says Zhao. “This is the first study to look at smokers’ behaviors in an online community over time and to report a prospective relationship between social network involvement and quitting smoking.”

    The BecomeAnEX website enables members to share information and support through blogs, forums, and messages. Although the site is focused on smoking cessation, users can post on any topic. More than 800,000 users have registered since the site launched in 2008, resulting in a large, active community of current and former tobacco users supporting each other.

    Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the study constructed a large-scale social network based on users’ posting habits. Zhao says a key finding was that increasing integration into the social network was a significant predictor of subsequent abstinence. Three months after joining the BecomeAnEX social network, users who stayed involved on the site were more likely to have quit smoking when researchers contacted them to assess their smoking status.

    After three months, 21 percent of active users — or those who actively contributed content in the community — quit smoking; 11 percent of passive users — those who only read others’ posts — quit smoking; and only 8 percent of study participants that never visited quit smoking.

    The study did not examine why greater community involvement had such a positive effect on smoking cessation. Researchers speculate it may be because of powerful social network influences.

    “Spending time with others who are actively engaged in quitting smoking in a place where being a nonsmoker is supported and encouraged gives smokers the practical advice and support they need to stay with a difficult behavior change,” says Amanda Graham, senior vice president, Innovations, of Truth Initiative and lead author. “We know that quitting tobacco can be extremely difficult. These results demonstrate what we hear from tobacco users, which is that online social connections and relationships can make a real difference.”


  8. Study suggests anticipated social media buzz can drive tourism

    October 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Georgia press release:

    How much positive feedback travelers think they’ll get on social media can predict whether they intend to visit a tourism destination, a new University of Georgia study has found.

    The research on “social return,” or the number of likes, shares, comments and overall positive feedback travelers expect they’ll get from their travel posts, shows what destination marketers already know, said Bynum Boley, an assistant professor in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

    “Social media is influencing the destination selection process,” Boley said. “Results confirm the importance of promoting the symbolic aspects of the destination rather than solely promoting the functional attributes such as price and weather; destination marketers need to consider the anticipated social media buzz travel will create and harness the force behind these symbolic images to influence visitation to the destination.”

    The research team developed and used the “Social Return Scale” to predict whether 758 U.S. travelers intend to visit Cuba over the next year, next five years, and then next 10 years based upon the anticipated positive social media feedback of posting their travel experiences.

    Cuba was chosen as the destination of interest because the recent loosening of travel restrictions under the Obama administration resulted in a rush to see the country before increased U.S. tourism changed the nature of the experience. So it was of interest to see if the expected social return of traveling to Cuba would have a greater influence on intent to visit there in the short term versus long term.

    Results show that across all three times (next year, next five years and next 10 years), the anticipated social return of traveling to Cuba was a good predictor of whether someone intended to visit the country. However, social return had the greatest influence on predicting travel within the next year, the study found.

    These results, Boley said, imply that the more tourists see a destination as having “the right atmosphere for signaling their desired image to their peer groups” through social media, the more likely they are to travel there in the near future.

    “While travel and social standing have a long history of interconnectedness, social media has fundamentally changed the nature of this form of conspicuous consumption,” Boley said. “No longer do peers have to take each other’s word on where they have traveled or wait for the slideshow upon returning from the trip; travelers are now able to receive instant gratification and recognition through posting pictures of their travels.”

    These results have significant implications for tourism marketers, Boley said. They now have to take into account what travelers find social media worthy about a destination to craft their marketing materials. It’s not just about whether someone can afford the trip or if they’ll have an enjoyable time while there, he said.

    “This is especially important as narcissism becomes more normalized and the posting of travel experiences on social media becomes a more prominent primary motivation for travel,” he said.

    These results were recently published in Tourism Management by Boley and co-authors Evan Jordan with Arizona State University, Carol Kline with Appalachian State University, and Whitney Knollenberg with North Carolina State University.


  9. Study examines motivation of Snapchat users

    October 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Texas Tech University press release:

    The simplicity of the platform and brevity of posts are key factors in determining how students can become addicted.

    In a world where people struggle with a seemingly diminishing attention span, Snapchat could be the best form of communication.

    Posts last just 10 seconds. That’s it. No deep thoughts or analytical narrative to the posts. Quick, simple and move on to the next topic.

    But a study by Texas Tech University associate professor Narissra Punyanunt-Carter, graduate student J.J. Delacruz and alumni Jason Wrench in the College of Media & Communication shows the interest and popularity of Snapchat goes beyond just its simplicity.

    “People use Snapchat a lot because of its entertainment and functional needs,” Delacruz said. “For certain people, it enables them to overcome communication apprehension by using a different means of communication where they don’t have a threat in their face. At the same time, there are people who are addicted to it. So for counseling purposes, there is a need to establish the motivations to see if maybe they need to use something other than Snapchat, mediated or not, as a way to fulfill their interaction needs.”

    In other words, Snapchat, because of its brevity, can provide the perfect medium for those who are hesitant about communicating their life to a public audience, but at the same time can become addictive because those same properties allow for multiple, quick posts that only last a few seconds.

    “I noticed people were using it all the time. They are constantly on it,” Punyanunt-Carter said. “It’s very different from the traditional social media because it only records 10 seconds worth of snaps that are very, very quick. So if I have a lot of friends, that’s very time consuming to sit down and watch all their posts on most social media platforms.”

    Finding their motivations

    For the study, Punyanunt-Carter and Delacruz recruited students in the College of Media & Communication through the department’s Sona survey system, where students earn extra credit in certain classes for participating in online surveys. They also administered the survey to those who responded to requests through TechAnnounce, totaling almost 500 students altogether.

    The survey asked students who use Snapchat about their reasons for using the medium, including needs and motivations. It also asked about general social media use motivations, such as personality characteristics and what made them tend to gravitate toward Snapchat as a social medium. It also asked questions to help researchers analyze differences between males and females.

    The brevity of Snapchat posts was a key factor for two big reasons. One, people using Snapchat felt much more trustworthy with how they shared content with others. Two, because the content disappears quickly, users are able to share their lives and don’t feel the pressure to present themselves in any extraordinary form — they can just be their normal, real self.

    “They thought that was a good way to maintain ties with people they were already very close with, interpersonally,” Delacruz said. “It wasn’t so much about whether or not they were being controversial as much as just not putting much thought into what is out there. Maybe it’s just an ugly selfie or whatever, or maybe it’s something that, because the judgement is not there like it is on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, there’s no controversial topics.”

    There’s also an element of familiarity with Snapchat that makes it a preferred medium. Not with the medium itself, but with those on the medium. Delacruz said Snapchat is not the preferred social media platform for starting a new relationship because the posts don’t last long. That is something more for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

    However, it is an optimal platform for those with whom the user already has a relationship, and therefore don’t have to impress in their post. It is used to maintain relationships and establish trust between users.

    At the same time, Snapchat seems to change faster than other social media platforms, adding things like filters that Facebook and Instagram later added as well.

    “It takes away the pressure of coming up with a great message or great topic, or coming up with a way to present yourself that is socially acceptable,” Delacruz said.

    Analyzing apprehension

    While Snapchat can be a useful tool to help overcome apprehension about communicating on a public forum, it can also swing the other way and become addictive.

    Understanding the motivations for users who are addicted to it is a crucial part of the study. By knowing what motivates Snapchat users, researchers can help others identify potential alternative outlets for communication.

    “Knowing their motivations would definitely help people who advise those with the addiction,” Delacruz said. “It can help them have a better understanding of how to be confident and effective communicators.”

    Punyanunt-Carter would like to expand future research beyond just Snapchat and into other forms of communication.

    “I’m going to look further at interpersonal communication behaviors and how these types of social media platforms affect interpersonal relationships and, perhaps, the sense of identity,” Punyanunt-Carter said. “I want to understand the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication elements on social media. There’s a lot that needs to be done.”


  10. Study suggests you can ‘pick up’ a good or bad mood from your friends

    September 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    New research suggests that both good and bad moods can be ‘picked up’ from friends, but depression can’t.

    A team led by the University of Warwick has examined whether friends’ moods can affect an individual therefore implying that moods may spread across friendship networks.

    The team analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health which incorporates the moods and friendship networks of US adolescents in schools. Their paper Spreading of components of mood in adolescent social networks has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The team’s findings imply that mood does spread over friendship networks, as do various different symptoms of depression such as helplessness and loss of interest. However they also found that they also found that the effect from lower or worse mood friends was not strong enough to push the other friends into depression.

    Using mathematical modelling they found that having more friends who suffer worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods and a decreased probability of improving. They found the opposite applied to adolescents who had a more positive social circle.

    Public health statistics researcher Rob Eyre led the study. He said: “We investigated whether there is evidence for the individual components of mood (such as appetite, tiredness and sleep) spreading through US adolescent friendship networks while adjusting for confounding by modelling the transition probabilities of changing mood state over time.

    “Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion.

    “Previous studies have found social support and befriending to be beneficial to mood disorders in adolescents while recent experiments suggest that an individual’s emotional state can be affected by exposure to the emotional expressions of social contacts.

    “Clearly, a greater understanding of how changes in the mood of adolescents are affected by the mood of their friends would be beneficial in informing interventions tackling adolescent depression.”

    The World Health Organisation has estimated that depression affects 350 million people across the world, impacting on individual’s abilities to work and socialise and at worse leading to suicide. This study’s findings emphasise the need to also consider those who exhibit levels of depressive symptoms just below those needed for a diagnosis of actual depression when designing public health interventions.

    The study also helps confirm that there is more to depression than simply low mood. At the individual level, these findings imply that following the evidence-based advice for improving mood, e.g. exercise, sleeping well, and managing stress, can help a teenager’s friends as well as themselves. Whilst for depression, friends do not put an individual at risk of illness so a recommended course of action would be to show them support.

    Their conclusions link in to current policy discussions on the importance of sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms and could help inform interventions against depression in senior schools

    Co-author, professor Frances Griffiths of Warwick Medical School said: “The results found here can inform public health policy and the design of interventions against depression in adolescents. Sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents is an issue of great current concern as they have been found to be very common, to cause a reduced quality of life and to lead to greater risk of depression later on in life than having no symptoms at all.

    “Understanding that these components of mood can spread socially suggests that while the primary target of social interventions should be to increase friendships because of its benefits in reducing of the risk of depression, a secondary aim could be to reduce spreading of negative mood.”