Health, well-being and social relationships


The digital society profoundly impacts the health, well-being and social relationships of individuals and societies, altering both the offline and online realities of their lives. Technology provides ample opportunities for individuals to lead healthier, happier, and socially active lives, but also brings forth new challenges and risks. Health technologies, for example, allow individuals to detect, diagnose and mitigate health risks but also bring new burdens and inequalities into society when they are not equally accessible to all people. Technologies support well-being by affording people to work, live and play independent of time and place constraints, but they may also have adverse effects on well-being, for instance when their use leads to experiences of overload, generates stress or is conducive to the development of mental health problems. The wide variety of social technologies aimed at supporting people’s social relationships might also have unforeseen side-effects that may ultimately jeopardize the social fabric of society, for example when their use harms the quality of face-to-face interactions, leads to polarization or leads to risky or undesirable online social behaviors, such as online aggression and online intimate partner violence. 


It is imec-mict-UGent's mission to empower people in a digital society. We support individuals in their quest to live a good life by examining how digital media use can support health, well-being and high-quality social relationships. Given the profound impact that digitization may have on these fundamental aspects of human life, it is essential to develop insight into of the design, development and implementation of health and social technologies during technological innovation processes. Hence, we investigate how user-centric innovation in the domain of health technologies can foster better health outcomes. We also need to better understand the profound impact of ubiquitous connectivity on human life. To that end, we examine how individuals strive for digital well-being, and explore how they can better balance the benefits and burdens of 24/7 digital connectivity. We also explore how to prevent or mitigate media use that is risky or problematic by gaining insight into the prevalence, predictors, and outcomes of risky behaviors such as sexting and (online) aggression, as well as problematic uses of digital media, such as smartphone use during social interactions. In our exploration of people’s health, well-being, and social relationships, we pay close attention to how the offline and online world in which people operate intersect.  

We at imec-mict-UGent work towards the above goals by developing new methods, conceptual approaches, and future technologies. We communicate our insights to the academic and the public world so that individuals, social groups, and organizations can make evidence-based decisions concerning their digital media use and how to best organize and implement it to safeguard health, well-being and social relationships. As such, our research can inspire people, organizations, and policymakers to create a more sustainable society. 

Research pillars 

At imec-mict-UGent, we: 

  1. Analyze the opportunities, challenges and risks that are related to the health, well-being and social relationships of individuals in a digitizing world 
  2. Explore which factors increase individual susceptibility to experience benefits or harm from digitization. These factors include socio-demographic factors, intra-personal characteristics, technological features, socio-cultural contexts, and situational circumstances. 
  3. Examine and evaluate how digital technologies and technological innovation processes can be designed, developed and implemented to improve health, well-being and social relationships. 
  4. Reflect on the socio-cultural implications of digitization by examining how health, well-being and social relationships are understood and organized across cultures.