Social connections and social support networks are essential for physical and mental health. In fact, recent research suggests that how long people live is better predicted by the quality of their social relationships and how well they are integrated in their community, than it is by how much they smoke and drink, or whether they are obese. Loneliness, on the other hand, is linked to negative health outcomes including depression, poor sleep quality, more hospital and doctor visits, and compromised immune system functioning.
This research will focus on the processes involved in successful social interactions with strangers, friendship formation, and social integration. It will focus on questions including: Why do some people have a harder time making friends than others? How do people develop a sense of belonging when they move to a new community? How do the size of someone's social networks, and the availability of social support, influence specific health outcomes like immune function and cardiovascular disease risk? Given that Canadian culture is characterized by high rates of immigration and residential mobility, developing effective evidence-based strategies for combating loneliness and social isolation can have direct benefits for individuals and communities alike.
Knowledge translation activities for this research will include active engagement with broad audiences of university administrators and advisors, student mental health groups, and community members. Dr. Chen will produce reports for groups directly involved in promoting community social integration efforts, whilst serving as a scientific/faculty advisor for initiatives to disseminate research findings directly to the public. She will use research findings to develop specific interventions to facilitate friendship formation and social integration, targeted to individuals who are experiencing social disruptions or difficulty transitioning into new environments. Enhanced knowledge about these topics is expected to contribute to the public good and welfare of British Columbians.