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Giving up cigarettes is socially contagious

When trying to get people to stop smoking is it best to focus on the individual? or on the social network which people are part of? According to new research from Harvard University, it is much better to focus on the social group or network in order to help people give up the addiction. The study found that smoking cessation is contagious: people stop smoking in ?network clusters? and not on their own, and those who continue to smoke are pushed to the edge of their social group.

The study involved 12,067 people who were followed over a 32 year period.  The researchers collected data from participants such as information about their family situation, coworkers, neighbours and closest friends. Using this information they reconstructed the social network of the participants to see how health correlates with an individuals social network. 

The authors found that large groups of people give up smoking at the same time even when they do not directly know each other. The fact that people give up in waves supports the idea that the decision to stop smoking is not an individually isolated one.

The researchers show just how people might influence the behaviour and decision making of those they don?t know. They illustrate this by giving the example of a three person network who we will call A, B & C.  Person A  and person C do not know one another, but person B knows both person A and person C.  If person A gives up smoking then the chances of person C giving up is raised by 30 per cent.  The authors say that this influence might be happening because person B is acting as a ?carrier? for the social norm.

Not only this, but the authors found that as smoking becomes socially unacceptable those who do light up are pushed to the periphery of their social network; and it is no longer cool to light up.

This research highlights the fact that we are not just isolated individuals who think, feel and behave in the world, but we are inherently social and that what other people do has a direct link on our health.  
To access the article click here

This finding has arisen using the the data which also underpinned a similar study published last year which showed that obesity is socially contagious.  Click here
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