Nicholas A. Christakis

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Nicholas A. Christakis
Nicholas Christakis.jpg
Born (1962-05-07) May 7, 1962 (age 53)
United States
Residence New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Nationality American
Fields Sociology; Biosocial Science, Medicine
Institutions University of Pennsylvania
University of Chicago
Harvard Medical School
Harvard University
Yale University
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard Medical School
University of Pennsylvania
Doctoral advisor Renée Fox

Nicholas A. Christakis (born May 7, 1962) is an American sociologist and physician known for his research on social networks and on the socioeconomic and biosocial determinants of behavior, health, and longevity. He is the Sol Goldman Family Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University.[1] He directs the Human Nature Lab, and he is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science.

He was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006, and he was named a Fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010.

In 2009, he was named to the Time 100, Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.[2] In 2009 and again in 2010, Christakis was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers.[3]


Christakis received a B.S. in biology from Yale University in 1984, where he won the Russell Henry Chittenden Prize. He received an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and an M.P.H. from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1989, winning the Bowdoin Prize on graduation.[citation needed]

In 1989, Christakis completed a residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and then obtained a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. While at the University of Pennsylvania as a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, he worked with Renee C. Fox, a distinguished American medical sociologist; other members of his dissertation committee were methodologist Paul Allison and physician Sankey Williams. In his dissertation, which was published as Death Foretold,[4] Christakis studied the role of prognosis in medical thought and practice, documenting and explaining how physicians are socialized to avoid making prognoses. He argued that the prognoses patients receive even from the best-trained American doctors are driven not only by professional norms but also by religious, moral, and even quasi-magical beliefs (such as the "self-fulfilling prophecy").

Christakis trained as a general internist. He completed his residency in 1991 at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1993.


In 1995, Christakis started as an Assistant Professor with joint appointments in Departments of Sociology and Medicine at the University of Chicago. In 2001, he was awarded tenure in both Sociology and Medicine, however, left the University of Chicago to take up a position at Harvard. Until July 2013, he was Professor of Medical Sociology in the Department of Health Care Policy and a Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School; a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; and an Attending Physician at the Harvard-affiliated Mt. Auburn Hospital.[5][5]

In 2013, Christakis moved to Yale University, where he is a Professor of Sociology and a Professor of Medicine, with additional appointments in Evolutionary Biology and Biomedical Engineering.[citation needed]

From 2009 to 2013, Christakis and his wife, Erika Christakis, were Co-Masters of Pforzheimer House, one of Harvard's twelve residential houses.[6] In February 2015, it was announced that Christakis would become the new master of Silliman College at Yale University, perhaps the first person to serve in this role at both Yale and Harvard.[7]


Christakis uses quantitative methods (e.g., mathematical models of network formation, statistical analysis of large observational studies, and experiments) to study social networks and other social factors that affect health. His work has spanned the fields of demography, sociology, sociobiology, behavior genetics, network science, and biosocial science. He is an author or editor of four books, more than 150 peer-reviewed academic articles, and numerous editorials in national and international publications.[citation needed]

Studies by Christakis and James H. Fowler suggested a variety of individuals' attributes like obesity,[8] smoking cessation,[9] and happiness[10] rather than being individualistic, are causally correlated by contagion mechanisms that transmit these behaviors over long distances within social networks.[11] Other work in the Christakis and Fowler Labs has also used experimental methods to study social networks,[12][13] and has broadened to use many data sets and approaches.[14] Christakis's Lab at has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), by the Pioneer Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, by the Gates Foundation, and by other funders. In a TED talk,[15] Christakis summarizes the broader implications of the role of networks in human activity.

In 2009, his group extended the study of social networks to genetics, publishing in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences a finding that social network position may be partially heritable, and specifically that an increase in twins' shared genetic material corresponds to differences in their social networks.[16] And in 2011, Fowler and Christakis published a follow-up paper on "Correlated Genotypes in Friendship Networks" in PNAS.[17] Further work on this topic included "Friendship and Natural Selection" in PNAS in 2014.[18] In 2012, in a paper in Nature, the group analyzed the social networks of the Hadza hunter gatherers, showing that human social network structure has ancient origins.[19] Christakis and Fowler (and others) have argued that social networks are deeply related to human cooperation.[12][13]

In 2010, Christakis and Fowler published a paper (based on the spread of H1N1 in Harvard College in 2009) regarding the use of social networks as 'sensors' for forecasting epidemics (of germs and other phenomena),[20] beginning a program of research to deploy social networks to improve health and health care. In another TED talk,[21] Christakis describes this effort and computational social science more generally. A follow-up paper in 2014 documented the utility of the approach in twitter.[22]


Christakis has practiced as a home hospice physician, taking care of home-bound, dying patients.[23] In Boston, from 2002 to 2006, Christakis worked as an attending physician on the Palliative Medicine Consult Service at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2006, he moved to Mount Auburn Hospital, and in 2013, he moved to the Department of Medicine at Yale University.[citation needed]



Christakis's first book, Death Foretold: Prophecy and Prognosis in Medical Care, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1999.[4]

Along with James Fowler, Christakis is the author of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, published in September 2009.[24][25] It was awarded the "Books for a Better Life" Award in 2010 and has been translated into nearly 20 languages. Connected draws on previously published and unpublished studies and makes several new conclusions about the influence of social networks on human health and behavior. In Connected, Christakis and Fowler put forward their "three degrees of influence" rule about human behavior, which theorizes that each person's individual social influence can stretch roughly three degrees before it fades out.[26]

Christakis has also edited two clinical textbooks published by Oxford University Press.[27][28]

Other writings[edit]

Social networks

Bereavement, caregiver burden, marriage, and health



On October 29, Christakis's wife Erika Christakis, a Lecturer on Early Childhood Education at the Yale Child Study Center, wrote an e-mail to Yale undergraduates on the role of free expression in universities, and arguing, from a developmental perspective, that students might wish to consider whether administrators should provide guidance on Halloween attire or whether students might wish to be allowed to ‘dress themselves.’[29] This e-mail was in response to an earlier e-mail sent to undergraduates by administrators at Yale which encouraged students to be mindful of racial sensitivities when choosing Halloween costumes.[30] The e-mail played a role in substantial protests on campus that received national attention in the United States.[31] Christakis and his wife were criticized by some Yale students for placing "the burden of confrontation, education, and maturity on the offended" in response to remarks perceived as racially insensitive,[32] but others claimed that Erika Christakis was defending the rights to free expression of all Yale students.[33][34] Ninety-five Yale faculty members signed a letter supporting the Christakises; this letter noted that the Christakises distinguished support for freedom of expression from supporting the content of such expression and furthermore stated that "One can differ with her suggestion that administrative bodies should not play such an oversight role at Yale, but the suggestion itself clearly does not constitute support for racist expression." [35]


  1. ^ Tom Conroy, "New "Institute Will Advance the Interdisciplinary Study of Networks," Yale News April 11, 2013.
  2. ^ Ariely, Dan (2009-04-30). "Nicholas Christakis - The 2009 TIME 100". TIME. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  3. ^ [1] Archived December 18, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b [ Gina Kolata, "A Conversation with: Nicholas Christakis; A Doctor With a Cause: 'What's My Prognosis?'", The New York Times, November 28, 2000.
  5. ^ a b "Nicholas A. Christakis". Edge. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  6. ^ Bita M. Asad and Ahmed Mabruk, "Christakises To Be Pfoho House Masters," The Harvard Crimson, February 17, 2009.
  7. ^ Emma Platoff and Victor Wang, "Christakis named Silliman master," Yale News, February 27, 2015.
  8. ^ Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2007). "The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years". The New England Journal of Medicine 357: 370–379. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa066082. PMID 17652652. 
  9. ^ Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2008). "The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network". The New England Journal of Medicine 358. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa0706154. PMC 2822344. PMID 18499567. 
  10. ^ Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2008). "Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study". British Medical Journal 337 (337): a2338. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338. PMC 2600606. PMID 19056788. 
  11. ^ Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2009). Connected:The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. Little, Brown and Co. ISBN 978-0316036146. 
  12. ^ a b J.H. Fowler and N.A. Christakis, "Cooperative Behavior Cascades in Social Networks," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (March 2010)
  13. ^ a b "Dynamic social networks promote cooperation in experiments with humans". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  14. ^ N.A. Christakis and J.H. Fowler, "Social Contagion Theory: Examining Dynamic Social Networks and Human Behavior," Statistics in Medicine (February 2013)
  15. ^ "Nicholas Christakis: The hidden influence of social networks | TED Talk". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  16. ^ J.H. Fowler, C.T. Dawes, and N.A. Christakis, "Model of Genetic Variation in Human Social Networks," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(6): 1720-1724
  17. ^ J.H. Fowler, J.E. Settle, and N.A. Christakis, "Correlated Genotypes in Friendship Networks," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (January 2011)
  18. ^ Nicholas A. Christakis. "Friendship and natural selection". Retrieved 13 November 2015. 
  19. ^ C.L. Apicella, F.W. Marlowe, J.H. Fowler, and N.A. Christakis, "Social Networks and Cooperation in Hunter-Gatherers," Nature (January 2012)
  20. ^ N.A. Christakis and J.H. Fowler, "Social Network Sensors for Early Detection of Contagious Outbreaks," PLoS ONE 5(9) e12948. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012948
  21. ^ "Nicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemics | TED Talk". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  22. ^ "PLOS ONE". Retrieved 13 November 2015. 
  23. ^ Sharlet, Jeff. "Prognosis:Death". The Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  24. ^ "Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  25. ^ "Connected". Hachette Book Group. 2009-09-28. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  26. ^ Clive Tomson, "Is Happiness Catching," The New York Times, September 14, 2009.
  27. ^ P. Clare and N.A. Christakis, eds., Prognosis in Advanced Cancer, Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-853022-0
  28. ^ G. Hanks, N. Cherny, S. Kassa, R. Portenoy, N.A. Christakis, and M. Fallon, eds., Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine, 4th ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-969314-6
  29. ^ "Dressing Yourselves". Retrieved 2016-01-06. 
  30. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor. "The New Intolerance of Student Activism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  31. ^ Stack, Liam (2015-11-08). "Yale’s Halloween Advice Stokes a Racially Charged Debate". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  32. ^ White, Gillian. "The Problem With Vilifying the Yale Student Activists". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  33. ^ "Yale Students Demand Resignations from Faculty Members Over Halloween Email;". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  34. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor. "The New Intolerance of Student Activism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-01-04. 
  35. ^ "Letter of Support For Erika and Nicholas Christakis". Retrieved 2016-01-04. 

External links[edit]