Contact patterns in a high school: A comparison between data collected using wearable sensors, contact diaries and friendship surveys

Mastrandrea, Rossana; Fournet, Julie; Barrat, Alain
Given their importance in shaping social networks and determining how information or transmissible diseases propagate in a population, interactions between individuals are the subject of many data collection efforts. To this aim, different methods are commonly used, ranging from diaries and surveys to decentralised infrastructures based on wearable sensors. These methods have each advantages and limitations but are rarely compared in a given setting. Moreover, as surveys targeting friendship relations might suffer less from memory biases than contact diaries, it is interesting to explore how actual contact patterns occurring in day-to-day life compare with friendship relations and with online social links. Here we make progresses in these directions by leveraging data collected in a French high school and concerning (i) face-to-face contacts measured by two concurrent methods, namely wearable sensors and contact diaries, (ii) self-reported friendship surveys, and (iii) online social links. We compare the resulting data sets and find that most short contacts are not reported in diaries while long contacts have a large reporting probability, and that the durations of contacts tend to be overestimated in the diaries. Moreover, measured contacts corresponding to reported friendship can have durations of any length but all long contacts do correspond to a reported friendship. On the contrary, online links that are not also reported in the friendship survey correspond to short face-to-face contacts, highlighting the difference of nature between reported friendships and online links. Diaries and surveys suffer moreover from a low sampling rate, as many students did not fill them, showing that the sensor-based platform had a higher acceptability. We also show that, despite the biases of diaries and surveys, the overall structure of the contact network, as quantified by the mixing patterns between classes, is correctly captured by both networks of self-reported contacts and of friendships, and we investigate the correlations between the number of neighbors of individuals in the three networks. Overall, diaries and surveys tend to yield a correct picture of the global structural organization of the contact network, albeit with much less links, and give access to a sort of backbone of the contact network corresponding to the strongest links, i.e., the contacts of longest cumulative durations.
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