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Abstract

The phenomenon of social support―aid and assistance exchanged through social relationships and interpersonal transactions―has been studied extensively for decades. In the context of healthcare virtual support communities, researchers have focused on exploring community members’ support behavior and its effects on individuals’ health outcomes. This emphasis, however, has led to the neglect of another type of social interaction that also promotes individual health―companionship activities. We argue that in order to gain a deeper insight into the online support phenomenon, the consideration of companionship activities, in addition to social support exchange, is necessary. To bridge this gap in the literature, this article attempts to contrast community members’ support behavior and companionship activities in two large healthcare virtual support communities―one for patients with breast cancer and the other for patients with prostate cancer. Based on the identification of the two types of social activities from the two cancer support communities, the relationship between individuals’ participation in these activities, and gender differences in their activity engagement are also hypothesized and tested. Our goal is to advance the understanding of online socio-behavioral dynamics of virtual support communities. We also wish to provide insights into the design of such communities and the delivery of patient-focused healthcare interventions.

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