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Brain, Behavior, and Cancer Seminar Series June 12, 2014, 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm Hillman Cancer Center Cooper Classroom C


Social Dynamics in Online Cancer Support Groups

Robert Kraut, PhD
Herbert A. Simon Professor of Human-Computer Interaction
Carnegie Mellon University

Sponsored by
The Biobehavioral Medicine in Oncology Program
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute

Many people with serious diseases use online support groups to exchange social support. In this presentation, we describe three studies in a large,online breast cancer group that examined the social dynamics of exchanging support. For these groups to be effective, members must both seek support and provide it. For the groups to be sustained, some members must continue to participate. Using machine learning techniques to automate content analysis of 1.5 million messages and longitudinal data analysis, we examine how people get support and the impact of support on group satisfaction and commitment. Although members asked explicit questions to get informational support, they used both positive and negative self-disclose to elicit emotional support. Because providing emotional support has implication for the relationship between the provider and recipient, it became less valuable as a signal of caring if it must be explicitly requested. Moreover, failing to receive support after explicitly requesting it has negative consequences for the seeker’s face. Receiving either informational or emotional support positively predicted participants’ satisfaction with support exchanges. Moreover, recipients were more satisfied if the support they received matched the support they sought, at least for informational support. In contrast, they were equally satisfied with emotional and informational support after seeking emotional support, presumably because any response to them was an indicator that others in the community cared about them. Receiving support also influenced members’ continued participation in the group, with emotional support increasing their commitment substantially more than informational support.

A light lunch will be provided to all attendees.  Please contact Dolores Oliver ( if you plan to attend,need directions, or need more information.

The Cooper Classrooms are located on the ground level of the Hillman Cancer Center, 5115 Centre Avenue, Shadyside. After entering the building walk to the left past the elevators. Facing the gift shop turn right down the hallway. Room C is the 3rd door in the lobby area on the left.

Parking is available in the garage at the UPMC Cancer Pavilion across the street from the Hillman Cancer Center (~$6 cash/credit for 1‐2 hours). There are also parking meters along Centre Avenue, Cypress Street and Baum Boulevard in the blocks surrounding the Cancer Center. The 71A & 71C both travel from Oakland and stop at Cypress Street just beyond the Cancer Center entrance. UPMC shuttles also run between Oakland and Shadyside (