Social networking tools could be an effective means to share good health habits as a new research suggests that people are more likely to change their habits when encouraged to do so during online chats with friends they know well and who are in close contact.

The study conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management in Cambridge contradicts the existing view that good health tips coming from close-knit online social networks was less likely to bring about behavioral change, given that people in such groups were more likely to exchange repetitive and redundant advice.

"It's startling to see that this is not always the case," study author Damon Centola, an assistant professor at MIT Sloan School of Management. Social reinforcement from multiple health buddies made participants much more willing to adopt the behavior," he notes in a press statement issued by the MIT.

The latest study seems to suggest that behavior is more likely to change faster due to suggestions from "long-tie" relationships that one gets to form via online social networks involving friends who live far apart and maintain contact less often.

The study results, published in the latest issue of Science, were the result of a series of experiments that matched up participants according to health concerns on an online health community.

Centola ran a series of social networking experiments with more than 1,500 participants. Analysis of the results suggested that the repetitiveness and redundancies that characterize online interactions was actually a driving force behind encouraging people to change their health habits.

During the study period, the participants were encourages to register for an online health forum website that ranked health resources. It was found that people linked closely to each other via the networks were more likely to sign up. They also regularly participated in the close-tie groups.

Based on these social interactions, the research team inferred that people will quickly adopt better health behavior if there is a constant reinforcement of the facts within their close groups.