An egocentric network contact tracing experiment: Testing different procedures to elicit contacts and places

Andrew Pilny, C. Joseph Huber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Contact tracing is one of the oldest social network health interventions used to reduce the diffusion of various infectious diseases. However, some infectious diseases like COVID-19 amass at such a great scope that traditional methods of conducting contact tracing (e.g., face-to-face interviews) remain difficult to implement, pointing to the need to develop reliable and valid survey approaches. The purpose of this research is to test the effectiveness of three different egocentric survey methods for extracting contact tracing data: (1) a baseline approach, (2) a retrieval cue approach, and (3) a context-based approach. A sample of 397 college students were randomized into one condition each. They were prompted to anonymously provide contacts and populated places visited from the past four days depending on what condition they were given. After controlling for various demographic, social identity, psychological, and physiological variables, participants in the context-based condition were significantly more likely to recall more contacts (medium effect size) and places (large effect size) than the other two conditions. Theoretically, the research supports suggestions by field theory that assume network recall can be significantly improved by activating relevant activity foci. Practically, the research contributes to the development of innovative social network data collection methods for contract tracing survey instruments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1466
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was supported by the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through Grant UL1TR001998. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Contact tracing
  • Ego networks
  • Experimental design
  • Field theory
  • Social networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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