Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Demographics drive fitness partner decisions online, study finds

Date:
June 5, 2014
Source:
University of Pennsylvania
Summary:
Participants in an online fitness program ignored the fitness aptitude of their potential partners, instead choosing partners based on age, gender and BMI. The findings suggest that although people in online health programs are beckoned with the possibilities of meeting healthier people who can provide them with information about new kinds of exercises and better strategies for getting healthy, they self-select into networks that look very similar to the kinds of networks that people typically have offline.

Who would you rather have as a fitness partner: a paragon of athleticism and dedication who could motivate you to exceed your current level of fitness or an equal, with whom you could exchange tips and encouragement on the road to better health?

Related Articles


Or neither? According to a new study led by University of Pennsylvania's Damon Centola, participants in an online fitness program ignored the fitness aptitude of their potential partners.

"Instead they chose contacts based on characteristics that would largely be observable in regular, offline face-to-face networks: age, gender and body mass index," Centola said.

As more people turn to the Internet to help them improve their health and fitness, Centola, an associate professor in the Annenberg School for Communication, wanted to examine how people sought out health partners in an online forum. He coauthored the study with Arnout van de Rijt, an associate professor in Stony Brook University's Department of Sociology. The paper was published online in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Centola and van de Rijt partnered with an existing online fitness website to recruit 432 participants to be part of their new "Health Improvement Network." All of the participants shared ten pieces of information: their age, gender, ethnicity, body mass index (BMI), fitness level, diet preferences, goals for the program and favorite exercise, as well as their average exercise minutes and intensity level.

The researchers divided the participants into six groups. Each participant was then randomly partnered with six "health contacts" in their group with whom they could exchange information. Over a five-week period, the participants were given the opportunity to select new health contacts and drop existing ones. The only information on which they had to base their choice was the set of ten characteristics that the other members of the group had shared. Participants had no knowledge of who each other's health contacts were, or whether there were any "highly connected" individuals. This allowed the study to reveal which characteristics participants would use to make their connections.

The researchers anticipated that group members would select health contacts who shared similar exercise routines or interests, or even fitness "leaders" who were very fit and could serve as motivational role models. Yet in five of the six communities, participants did neither. Rather, the community members showed a strong inclination to choose contacts whose age, BMI and gender were like their own.

The participants' tendency to "make ties to 'the devil they know,'" the authors wrote, "may unintentionally limit their opportunities for finding health information from sources that they are not normally exposed to."

The findings suggest that although people in online health programs are beckoned with the possibilities of meeting healthier people who can provide them with information about new kinds of exercises and better strategies for getting healthy, they self-select into networks that look very similar to the kinds of networks that people typically have offline: people with similar age, gender and BMI profiles as themselves.

Health programs can work around this human tendency, Centola noted, by actively recommending "health buddies" based on characteristics that are hard to connect to offline, but easy to find online, such as people who are good motivational partners, or partners who prefer similar exercises, or are working to increase their endurance to similar levels.

"Our findings suggest that the trick to an information-rich online community," Centola said, "is to encourage new kinds of ties by reminding participants just how valuable these online relationships can be."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Pennsylvania. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Damon Centola, Arnout van de Rijt. Choosing Your Network: Social Preferences in an Online Health Community. Social Science & Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.05.019

Cite This Page:

University of Pennsylvania. "Demographics drive fitness partner decisions online, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605183622.htm>.
University of Pennsylvania. (2014, June 5). Demographics drive fitness partner decisions online, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605183622.htm
University of Pennsylvania. "Demographics drive fitness partner decisions online, study finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605183622.htm (accessed November 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

UN Says It Will Scale Up Its Ebola Response

UN Says It Will Scale Up Its Ebola Response

AFP (Nov. 20, 2014) UN Resident Coordinator David McLachlan-Karr and WHO representative in the country Daniel Kertesz updated the media on the UN Ebola response on Wednesday. Duration: 00:51 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Takata Offers "sincerest Condolences" To Victims of Malfunctioning Airbag

Takata Offers "sincerest Condolences" To Victims of Malfunctioning Airbag

Reuters - US Online Video (Nov. 20, 2014) U.S. Congress hears from a victim and company officials as it holds a hearing on the safety of Takata airbags after reports of injuries. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obesity Costs Almost As Much As War And Terrorism

Obesity Costs Almost As Much As War And Terrorism

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) The newest estimate of the cost of obesity is pretty jarring — $2 trillion. But how did researchers get to that number? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Crisis Affecting US Adoptions

Ebola Crisis Affecting US Adoptions

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) The Sanborn family had hoped they'd be able to bring home their 5-year-old adopted son from Liberia by now. But Ebola has forced them to wait. The boy is just one of thousands of orphans in West Africa who've been impacted by the deadly virus. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins