How Good Cheer Spreads Through Teen Social Networks

By Tom Jacobs | September 14, 2015 | 0 comments

A new study finds that surrounding yourself with emotionally healthy friends is an effective way to avoid—or recover from—depression.

In recent years, the idea of contagion has spread far beyond medicine, all the way to the social sciences. Researchers have demonstrated how a variety of problematic behaviors, including smoking and overeating, tend to spread among friends, not unlike an infectious disease.

Well, a new study reports this dynamic can also function in a positive way. Specifically, it finds that, among American adolescents, a healthy mood spreads through social contact. Depression, on the other hand, does not.

“Our results suggest that promotion of friendship between adolescents can reduce both incidence and prevalence of depression,” a research team from the University of Warwick writes in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Researchers Edward Hill, Frances Griffiths, and Thomas House used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a nationally representative sample of young Americans who were in grades seven through 12 during the 1994-95 school year.

Their information was gathered from in-home interviews conducted six to 12 months apart, in which the students filled out a standard questionnaire indicating their depressive symptoms (or lack thereof), and listed up to five male and five female friends.

After modeling the results, the researchers concluded that “adolescents with five or more healthy (that is, non-depressed) friends have half the probability of becoming depressed over a six-to-12-month period compared to adolescents with no healthy friends.”

And if a youngster is already depressed, it appears healthy friends can speed the healing process. Specifically, the researchers found that “adolescents with 10 healthy friends have double the probability of recovering from depressive symptoms over a six-to-12-month period compared to adolescents with three healthy friends.”

On the other hand, they found no similar spreading of depressive symptoms. “Depression has been associated with social withdrawal,” they note, “and so depressed individuals would be expected to exert less social influence than adolescents with healthy moods.”

“Each individual may need sufficient exposure to others with a healthy mood in order to stay well, or become well if depressed,” the researchers add. “People who are, or have a tendency to be, depressed are less able to maintain a positive outlook from moment to moment—a deficit potentially compensated by interaction with healthy friends.”

Given the prevalence of depression, and how disabling it can be, these findings have real public policy implications. They suggest cultivating a strong network of emotionally healthy friends—perhaps through clubs or other organizations based on shared interests—can be a powerful and positive counterweight to the dark impulses most of us feel at some point during our adolescent years.

It turns out contentedness is contagious.

This article originally appeared in Pacific Standard magazine.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

 
About The Author

Tom Jacobs is a staff writer for Pacific Standard magazine. Through interviews, reviews, and essays, he has tracked and analyzed trends in the arts and sciences, with an emphasis on psychology, the role of culture, and the cultivation of creativity. A native of Chicago, Jacobs earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University.

  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  

Greater Good Events

The Science of Happiness

Register for the acclaimed online course through the end of May


The Science of Happiness

A free online course exploring the roots of a happy, meaningful life. Co-taught by the GGSC’s Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas. Up to 16 CE credit hours available.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

The Moral Molecule By Paul J. Zak A look at the hormone oxytocin's role in trust and how that may be the basis of a well-functioning economic system.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"Greater Good offers a first-rate service to those who want to track new and important research findings in social and emotional intelligence."  
Daniel Goleman

Best-selling author,
Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence
(www.danielgoleman.info)

thnx advertisement