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Social Integration and Health: The Case of the Common Cold
In this article, we discuss the concept of social integration and its implications for health. We provide both an overview of the social epidemiology and a review of theories of how participation in a diverse social network might influence health. We also present evidence from a prospective study of social network diversity (number of social roles) and susceptibility to the common cold in people experimentally exposed to a cold virus. We found that the greater the social diversity, the lesser the susceptibility to infectious illness. However, our attempts to isolate the pathways through which social diversity was associated with susceptibility (health practices, hormones, immune function) were unsuccessful. The relation was independent of the number of people in the social network, and of personality characteristics thought to influence social participation.