Distinguished Speaker Series
Nicholas Christakis
Director of Human Nature Lab at Yale University
Social Network Experiments
Mon
Sep 25, 2017
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2:00 pm
177 Huntington Ave, 11th floor
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Human beings choose their friends, and often their neighbors, and co-workers, and we inherit our relatives; and each of the people to whom we are connected also does the same, such that, in the end, we humans assemble ourselves into face-to-face social networks with particular structures.  Why do we do this?  And how might an understanding of human social network structure and function be used to intervene in the world to make it better?  Here, I review recent research from our lab describing several classes of interventions involving both offline and online networks that can help make the world better, including: (1) interventions that rewire the connections between people, and (2) interventions that manipulate social contagion, facilitating the flow of desirable properties within groups.  I will illustrate what can be done using a variety of experiments in settings as diverse as fostering cooperation in networked groups online, to fostering health behavior change in developing world villages, to facilitating the diffusion of innovation or coordination in groups.  I will also focus on our recent experiments with “heterogenous systems” involving both humans and “dumb AI" bots, interacting in small groups.  By taking account of people's structural embeddedness in social networks, and by understanding social influence, it is possible to intervene in social systems to enhance desirable population-level properties as diverse as health, wealth, cooperation, coordination, and learning.  

about the speaker
Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a sociologist and physician who conducts research in the area of biosocial science, investigating the biological predicates and consequences of social phenomena. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, where he is appointed as the Sol Goldman Family Professor of Social and Natural Science, and he is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science. Dr. Christakis’ lab is focused on the relationship between social networks and well-being. This research engages two types of phenomena: the social, mathematical, and biological rules governing how social networks form (“connection”), and the biological and social implications of how they operate to influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (“contagion”). Ongoing investigations in the lab explore the genetic bases for human social behaviors and the application of social network principles to change population-level behavior related to health, cooperation, and economic development. Along with long-time collaborator, James Fowler, Dr. Christakis has authored a general-audience book on social networks: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, which has been translated into nearly twenty foreign languages.

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