What has social media ever done for Health Psychology?! Thoughts after the CREATE Workshop

By Teresa CorbettimagesThis year’s CREATE workshop was entitled ‘Leveraging mobile technology and social media in behavioural research’ and took place between 24th-26th August in Innsbruck, Austria before the start of the 28th Conference of the European Health Psychology Society. It was facilitated by Sherry Pagoto, PhD (University of Massachusetts Medical School) and Kristin L. Schneider, PhD (Rosalind Franklin University). Thirty-six participants from across Europe took part in the comprehensive three-day workshop. The aim was cover the core aspects of social media and mobile technology that are relevant to research in behavioural science. I was particularly interested in this workshop as a keen Facebook and Twitter user. I never thought that my hours spent scrolling through the Internet could help with my Psychology research. It seems however, that I may have been wrong. Over the course of two and half days I was introduced to a whole new way of thinking about the social media we use. Below I have listed some issues that stood out in relation to how we can use these tools in our research and career development. CRA-Special-Reports1

1. Dissemination

The impact and reach of academic discourse on social media was discussed with reference to the potential use of such tools in knowledge dissemination beyond that of the traditional academic journal format. The role of the journal (to distribute, filter, and help evaluate scholarly content) has changed greatly over the last few years with the rise of electronic publishing and online materials. “Altmetrics” is the creation and study of new metrics based on the Social Web for analysing, and informing scholarship. This new model of an “impact factor” would not consider just where you publish, but how often your article is cited, downloaded, shared or mentioned on sites such as Facebook or Twitter. In an era where widespread dissemination is possible, it seems that we may have to find ways to get our research noticed, and more importantly to get people talking about it.

2. Reviewing Apps

There are countless numbers of health related apps available online. However, how good are they? How do we know which ones to choose? And (more importantly) which would our doctors recommend? The facilitators of the workshop addressed practical issues on evaluating and selecting health behaviour apps that are already publicly available. Which theories of health behaviour change do they incorporate? What BCTs do they use? How do we separate the good from the not so good? This is where researchers and health psychologists come in. We could conduct in-depth systematic reviews of these apps, composing lists of the good the bad and the ugly. Sharing this information would help health care providers to recommend apps to their tech-savvy patients and also encourage researchers to use these apps rather than creating new alternatives in an already overcrowded and competitive market.

3. Research design.

Social media is undoubtedly a tempting hunting ground for participant-thirsty researchers. Sharing, Liking, retweeting etc. are all great ways of sharing surveys and information about upcoming research. However, using social media as the intervention point may not be as clear-cut. This is a relatively new domain in terms of ethics and privacy standards. How to we monitor social media interactions? How do they compare to in-person group social interactions? What about the over-sharers? How do we measure social interaction? However, before we get tied up in knots, we must take alook at the broader picture. As members of an online social world, some patients may prefer this to also be the site of their intervention. In discussions of ethics and privacy, maybe we should not be too keen to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If this is where participants learn and interact about their health behaviours, then surely we must try to engage. This does not mean in the traditional sense. New platforms require new ideas, new modes of communication and new types of interventions. Mapping traditional group interventions to online settings will not always work. However, first we must be aware of the ways it is being used by patients, healthcare systems, and healthcare professionals. This awareness of the use of social media in healthcare is necessary to stimulate research ideas and improve healthcare practice.

Patients are increasingly flocking to online social networks to learn more about their health conditions and interact with providers and other patients. After participation in this workshop, I feel that I have gained a new appreciation of the different ways social media can help us to measure, understand and intervene upon disease and health behaviour. But there is still so much to do… Exciting times!  


Teresa Corbett and Lisa Hynes, both Psychology and Health PhD Candidates at NUI, Galway are pictured with the CREATE 2014 delegates and facilitators.




  1. Pingback: Health Behaviour Change Research Group Seminars | NUIG Health Psychology Blog

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