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Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a social scientist 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, with appointments in the Departments of Sociology, Medicine, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Biomedical Engineering. He is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science.

Prior to moving his lab to Yale in 2013, Dr. Christakis was Professor of Sociology and Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, since 2001. Prior to that, he served in the same capacities at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Christakis’ lab is currently focused on the structure and function of social networks. 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”).

Dr. Christakis’ research involves the application of network science methods and mathematical models to understand the dynamics of longitudinally evolving networks. To the extent that health behaviors such as smoking, drinking, or unhealthy eating spread within networks in intelligible ways, there are substantial implications for our understanding of health behavior and health policy. This body of work has also engaged the spread of obesity and of emotional states such as happiness, depression, and loneliness. Other recent work has involved experiments examining the network spread of altruism here, and here. His book on the way social networks affect our lives, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives is available here. This book has been translated into nearly 20 foreign languages, and it has been widely reviewed. His main collaborator in this research is James Fowler.

More recently, Dr. Christakis has become interested in the genetics and evolutionary biology of social network structure here, here, and here.

Current work in the lab is focused on exploring fundamental properties of human social networks. Some work involves the use of large-scale, online experiments (related papers here and here). Other work examines the biological determinants and consequences of social network interactions, with a particular emphasis on the genetic origins and implications of human social interactions. Other ongoing investigations in the lab consider the genetic bases for human behaviors. Christakis has also conducted large scale field trials and other investigations in the developing world (e.g., in Honduras, Uganda, and India) in order to explore how network methods might be deployed to change health behavior at the population level.

Dr. Christakis’s past work has examined neighborhood effects on health; the accuracy and role of prognosis in medicine; ways of improving end-of-life care; the widowhood effect (“dying of a broken heart”); and the determinants and outcomes of hospice use. His book on prognosis, Death Foretold: Prophecy and Prognosis in Medical Care, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1999; it was widely reviewed and was translated into Japanese in 2006.

Dr. Christakis has published over 150 papers, and edited two clinical textbooks in addition to the other books mentioned above.

His research has implications for diverse behavioral interventions, and for clinical and policy maneuvers to prevent and treat illness.

Dr. Christakis received his BS degree from Yale University (1984), his MD from Harvard Medical School (1989), his MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health (1989), and his PhD in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania (1995). He has served on many editorial boards and review committees both in the United States and abroad. Over the past several years, he has given invited talks in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. He has taught quantitative research design, social epidemiology, medical sociology (including Sociology 126 at Yale College), and palliative medicine. He has also advised a number of start-up companies, including ActivateNetworks, Ditto Labs, Whoop, KnowYourCrew, and Quitbit.

He was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006, and was made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010. In 2009, Christakis was named by Time magazine to their annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2009 and in 2010, he was listed by Foreign Policy magazine in their annual list of Top 100 Global Thinkers.

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