Paxton Hicks, a first-semester undergraduate research assistant, recently gave a presentation on the article titled,” Social Interaction in Online Support Groups: Preference for Online Social Interaction Over Offline Social Interaction” from Jae Eun Chung.
Online support groups [OSG] have been a rapid source for individuals seeking support. Sixty percent of users who search for health-related information use social media. The usage of the internet alleviates barriers to communication (i.e., geography), which is beneficial to those with rare conditions in order to easily access resources. However, short-term relationships are more common than not along with the increased chance of the spread of unhealthy advice. Researchers have previously observed the excessive use of the internet and its connection to the preferences of online interaction without the context of OSGs. Therefore, there has been an increase in the current body of research focusing on the positive aspects of OSGs.
The purpose of the presented study was to examine the potential factors that influence the presence of online social interaction as opposed to in-person, how support is integrated from online and offline relationships, and advance the understanding of the role of the internet for patient healthcare. Chung hypothesized that (1) compared to those with weaker relationships in OSGs, individuals with deeper relationships in OSGs will develop a stronger preference for social interaction in OSGs over offline social interaction; (2) compared to those with a higher level of satisfaction with offline social support, individuals with a lower level of satisfaction with offline social support will develop a stronger preference for social interaction in OSGs over offline social interaction; and (3) compared to those with a higher level of satisfaction with medical care, individuals with a lower level of satisfaction with medical care will develop a stronger preference for social interaction in OSGs over offline social interaction.
A sample was recruited through four established OSGs of 158 participants (M= 48.2, SD= 16.4) who completed an approximately 15 minutes in length survey. The demographics were 52.2% male, 47.8% female, the majority of the white race, and residency with a spread of 34.6% urban, 47.2% suburban, and 18.2% rural. Measures included Adapted PIU & GPIUS, Adapted QRI, Standard SSO, and PSQ. The Adapted PIU & GPIUS scales, Problematic Internet Use, were used to gauge the preference of social interaction in OSGs. Adapted QRI, Quality of Relationships Inventory, assessed the depth of relationship within the OSG to other users. The shortened version of the SSQ, Social Support Questionaire, measured satisfaction with offline support. The PSQ, Patient Satisfaction Questionaire, measured patient satisfaction with the medical care received.
A correlation matrix was performed to examine the relationships between the variables. Results indicated the depth of relations in OSGs correlated with a preference for social interaction in OSGs (p < .001). Satisfaction with offline support is related to satisfaction with medical care (p < .001). Satisfaction with offline support negatively correlated with a preference for social interaction in OSGs. Multivariate regression was used to measure the effect of these predictors on preference for social interaction in OSGs.
After the data analysis was performed, the results indicated hypothesis 1 and hypothesis 2 were supported. Individuals with higher relationships in OSGs showed higher preferences for social interaction in OSGs. People with lower levels of satisfaction in offline social support reported a higher preference for interaction in OSGs. Hypothesis 3 was not supported; therefore, no significant changes were found.
Chung listed the cross-sectional design as a limitation since it was unable to see the consequences of the developing preference for OSGs. A longitudinal design could have looked at the development of a preference and its consequences better. Hicks, however, believes the under-coverage of certain demographics (i.e., those of different races and communities) and differences in the types of relationships measured were also limitations. Future directions could include applying OSGs in the relevant wake of the COVID-19 pandemic since the lockdown restrictions limited in-person resources. There are various opportunities in investigating individuals with varying health statuses.
Wonderful presentation! We are looking forward to where your research takes you. Keep up the great work, Paxton Hicks!