Smartphones Show Real-Time Impact of Social Environments on Health

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A new study conducted by Cornell University sociologists has shown the real-time effects of social environments on one’s health. The researchers used smartphones to record locations and send surveys to participants. They used the data collected to analyze the effects of social environments on a person’s health. The results showed that the participants reported increased pain or fatigue whenever they encountered scenes they considered distressing. Lead author Erin York Cornwell said that these changes, although momentary, may have long-term effects on the participants’ health and well-being, particularly if they have to navigate demanding or threatening environments regularly. The researchers worked with 61 participants, who were 55 or older, from four neighborhoods in New York City. Using smartphones, the researchers asked participants to report their locations, activities, and feelings several times a day. The researchers also asked participants to take note of scenes that they considered unpleasant, such as litter and damaged sidewalks, as they went on with their days. To gauge participant reactions in real-time, researchers asked the participants to complete the surveys within 10 to 15 minutes of receiving them on their smartphones. According to York Cornwell, the participants completed the surveys 99% of the time. The high response rate could be attributed to the emerging method of recording and collecting data through smartphones. Unlike pen-and-paper surveys, smartphone-based data collection allowed the researchers to gather more timely responses and get more accurate results. She added that the approach has exciting implications because it could allow researchers to gain clearer insights into their studies. In the current study, for instance, using smartphones to gather data helped researchers understand how people reacted to their environments in real-time.

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