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Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2013 Apr;16(4):243-7. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0080. Epub 2013 Feb 25.

The influence of social networking photos on social norms and sexual health behaviors.

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Department of Family Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA.


Two studies tested whether online social networking technologies influence health behavioral social norms, and in turn, personal health behavioral intentions. In Study 1, experimental participants browsed peers' Facebook photos on a college network with a low prevalence of sexually suggestive content. Participants estimated the percentage of their peers who have sex without condoms, and rated their own future intentions to use condoms. Experimental participants, compared to controls who did not view photos, estimated that a larger percentage of their peers use condoms, and indicated a greater intention to use condoms themselves in the future. In Study 2, participants were randomly assigned to view sexually suggestive or nonsexually suggestive Facebook photos, and responded to sexual risk behavioral questions. Compared to participants viewing nonsuggestive photos, those who viewed sexually suggestive Facebook photos estimated that a larger percentage of their peers have unprotected sexual intercourse and sex with strangers and were more likely to report that they themselves would engage in these behaviors. Thus, online social networks can influence perceptions of the peer prevalence of sexual risk behaviors, and can influence users' own intentions with regard to such behaviors. These studies suggest the potential power of social networks to affect health behaviors by altering perceptions of peer norms.

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