EXCHANGING SOCIAL SUPPORT ONLINE: DECODING MOTIVATING FACTORS FOR PROMOTING SOCIAL SUPPORT IN A VIRTUAL COMMUNITY OF IBS PATIENTS

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Author:
Yang, Fan
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
May 05, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Bu Zhong, Dissertation Advisor
  • Bu Zhong, Committee Chair
  • S. Shyam Sundar, Committee Member
  • Fuyuan Shen, Committee Member
  • Xiaoyue Niu, Outside Member
Keywords:
  • Online forum
  • social support
  • IBS
  • social network analysis
Abstract:
Previous literature has repeatedly documented the positive association between receiving social support and individual well-being. Little research, however, has been done to explore the antecedents for social support provision in the first place. This dissertation examined the socio-psychological, message-related, and technological motivating factors that predicted social support provision for IBS patients in the online context. Utilizing social network analysis, Study 1 examined predictors of social support provision through pre-existing data of a total number of 90,965 messages posted by 9,369 users on an online IBS health forum (www.ibsgroup.org) from 2008-2012. Results revealed that social support one previously received and provided were positively associated with his/her support provision over time. However, support reciprocity inhibited individuals from continuing offering support. Furthermore, the more emotional one’s support-seeking messages were, the more social support he/she received support from others. Built on the findings of Study 1, Study 2 conducted a survey of online IBS forum users (N = 281) and found that the extent to which an online forum could afford users to enhance agency and build community significantly encouraged their social support provision via increased self-efficacy and sense of community, respectively. When users could freely browse through IBS forums and were exposed to emotional support-seeking messages, they were significantly more like to provide support in response as well. Support reciprocity failed to work as a significant predictor for social support provision. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.