updated 1/25/2006 8:01:17 PM ET 2006-01-26T01:01:17

Alone on the Internet? Hardly. The cyberworld expands people's social networks and even encourages people to talk by phone or meet others in person, a new study finds.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project also finds that U.S. Internet users are more apt to get help on health care, financial and other decisions because they have a larger set of people to which to turn.

Further rebuking early studies suggesting that the Internet promotes isolation, Pew found that it "was actually helping people maintain their communities," said Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto sociology professor and co-author of the Pew report.

The study found that e-mail is supplementing, not replacing, other means of contact. For example, people who e-mail most of their closest friends and relatives at least once a week are about 25 percent more likely to have weekly landline phone contact as well. The increase is even greater for cell phones.

"There's a certain seamlessness of how people maintain their social networks," said John Horrigan, Pew's associate director. "They shift between face-to-face, phone and Internet quite easily."

Meanwhile, Internet users tend to have a larger network of close and significant contacts — a median of 37 compared with 30 for nonusers — and they are more likely to receive help from someone within that social network.

The latest Pew report, issued Wednesday, was based on random telephone surveys conducted in February and March of 2004 and 2005. Each year's survey involved about 2,200 adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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