Nicholas A. Christakis

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Nicholas A. Christakis
Nicholas Christakis.jpg
Born (1962-05-07) May 7, 1962 (age 55)
United States
Residence New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Nationality American
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard Medical School
University of Pennsylvania
Scientific career
Fields Sociology; Biosocial Science, Medicine
Institutions University of Pennsylvania
University of Chicago
Harvard Medical School
Harvard University
Yale University
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 2017, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[2]

In 2009, he was named to the Time 100, Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.[3] In 2009 and again in 2010, Christakis was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers.[4]


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 1991, Christakis completed a residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. He was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1993. He obtained a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995. 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,[5] 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").


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. He left the University of Chicago to take up a position at Harvard in 2001. 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.[6][6]

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.[7] From 2015 to 2016, he served in a similar capacity at Silliman College at Yale University.[8]


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 180 peer-reviewed academic articles, numerous editorials in national and international publications, and at least three patents.[citation needed] His laboratory is also active in the development and release of software to conduct experiments and other studies (e.g., breadboard, Trellis).

Studies by Christakis and James H. Fowler suggested a variety of individuals' attributes like obesity,[9] smoking,[10] and happiness[11] rather than being solely individualistic, also arise via contagion mechanisms that transmit these behaviors over some distance within social networks (see: "three degrees of influence").[12] Other work in the Christakis and Fowler labs has used experimental methods to study social networks,[13][14][15][16] and has broadened to use many data sets and approaches.[17] 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 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and by other funders. In a TED talk,[18] 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.[19] And in 2011, Fowler and Christakis published a follow-up paper on "Correlated Genotypes in Friendship Networks" in PNAS.[20] Further work on this topic included "Friendship and Natural Selection" in PNAS in 2014.[21] 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.[22] Christakis and colleagues have also demonstrated that social networks are deeply related to human cooperation.[13][14]

In 2010, Christakis and Fowler published a paper (based on the spread of H1N1 in Harvard University in 2009) regarding the use of social networks as 'sensors' for forecasting epidemics (of germs and other phenomena).[23] In another TED talk,[24] Christakis describes this effort (and computational social science more generally). A follow-up paper in 2014 documented the utility of this approach, again based on the "friendship paradox," using twitter data.[25]

Beginning in 2010, Christakis and his colleagues initiated a program of research to deploy social networks to improve health and other social phenomena—for example, facilitating the adoption of public health innovations in the developing world,[26] or demonstrating the utility of autonomous agents ("bots") in optimizing coordination in groups online.[27]


Christakis has practiced as a home hospice physician, taking care of indigent, home-bound, dying patients in the South Side of Chicago.[28] 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.[5]

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.[29][30] It was awarded the "Books for a Better Life" Award in 2010 and has been translated into 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 social influence can stretch to roughly three degrees of separation before it fades out.[31]

Christakis has also edited two clinical textbooks published by Oxford University Press.[32][33]

Scientific papers[edit]

Free speech advocacy[edit]

While both at Harvard University and at Yale University, Christakis was involved in the defense of free expression. At Harvard, in 2012, he and his wife, Erika Christakis, came to the defense of minority students who were using satire to criticize the elite final clubs at that institution, and who the administration sought to punish. They suggested that the administration might be "more concerned with ugly words than the underlying problems," and that policing free expression on campus "denies students the opportunity to learn to think for themselves."[34] Their argument expressed confidence in the capacity and maturity of Harvard students to discuss contentious issues.

At Yale, in 2015, they were involved in a controversy related to the regulation of Halloween costumes. On October 29, 2015, 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.'[35] This e-mail was in response to a long earlier e-mail sent to undergraduates by administrators at Yale which encouraged students to be careful when choosing Halloween costumes, and provided links to recommended and non-recommended costumes.[36][37] The e-mail played a role in substantial protests on campus that received national attention in the United States.[38] 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 they perceived as racially insensitive,[39] but others pointed out that Erika Christakis was defending the rights to free expression of all Yale students and expressing confidence in them.[40][41] 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."[42] Despite Christakis' belief that Yale students could discuss controversial issues (such as costumes) among themselves, and his confidence in their ability to do so, he stepped down from his role at Silliman College at the end of the academic year, The Atlantic later noted.[43]

In a subsequent Op-Ed in The New York Times, Christakis argued: "Open, extended conversations among students themselves are essential not only to the pursuit of truth but also to deep moral learning and to righteous social progress."[44] A year later, commentators expressed concern about how students and faculty had behaved at Yale,[45] and Erika Christakis described the circumstances that she had faced the preceding year in an op-ed published in October, 2016.[46] The incident led to the labelling of some students as being members of Generation Snowflake.[47] In April 2017, an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Caper Chase," mentioned the events, with one character saying: "We also need to hire more deans to decide which Halloween costumes are appropriate."[48] Also in 2017, a short documentary was released about this episode, arguing that it reflected a collision between "old values" centered on reason and debate, on the one hand, and "administrative bloat" and a shift to a "consumer mentality" on the other (this documentary also noted that Christakis comes from a multi-racial family).[37]

The 2015 events at Yale have been discussed in five non-fiction books,[49][50][51][52][53] sometimes with conflicting factual details. In an October, 2017 interview (his only one regarding the events), Christakis broke his silence to discuss parts of the situation he faced, framing it in a broader context.[54]


Christakis is married to early childhood educator and author Erika Christakis and they have three children.[55] His hobbies have included Shotokan karate (his instructor, Kazumi Tabata, mentions him [56]) and making maple syrup.[57]


  1. ^ Tom Conroy, "New "Institute Will Advance the Interdisciplinary Study of Networks," Yale News April 11, 2013.
  2. ^ "Five professors elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences". Yale News. Retrieved 2017-04-18. 
  3. ^ Ariely, Dan (2009-04-30). "Nicholas Christakis - The 2009 TIME 100". TIME. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  4. ^ [1] Archived December 18, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b "Nicholas A. Christakis". Edge. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  7. ^ Bita M. Asad and Ahmed Mabruk, "Christakises To Be Pfoho House Masters," The Harvard Crimson, February 17, 2009.
  8. ^ Emma Platoff and Victor Wang, "Christakis named Silliman master," Yale News, February 27, 2015.
  9. ^ 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. PMID 17652652. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa066082. 
  10. ^ Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2008). "The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network". The New England Journal of Medicine. 358: 2249–2258. PMC 2822344Freely accessible. PMID 18499567. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa0706154. 
  11. ^ 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. PMC 2600606Freely accessible. PMID 19056788. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ a b J.H. Fowler and N.A. Christakis, "Cooperative Behavior Cascades in Social Networks," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (March 2010)
  14. ^ a b Rand, DG; Arbesman, S; Christakis, NA (November 2011). "Dynamic social networks promote cooperation in experiments with humans". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 108: 19193–8. PMC 3228461Freely accessible. PMID 22084103. doi:10.1073/pnas.1108243108. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  15. ^ Kim, David. (2015). "A Randomised Controlled Trial of Social Network Targeting to Maximise Population Behaviour Change". The Lancet. 386: 145–153. PMC 4638320Freely accessible. PMID 25952354. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60095-2. 
  16. ^ Nishi, Akihiro. (2015). "Inequality and Visibility of Wealth in Experimental Social Networks". Nature. 526: 426–429. PMID 26352469. doi:10.1038/nature15392. 
  17. ^ Christakis, Nicholas A. (2012). "Social contagion theory: examining dynamic social networks and human behavior". Statistics in Medicine. 32: 556–577. doi:10.1002/sim.5408. 
  18. ^ "Nicholas Christakis: The hidden influence of social networks | TED Talk". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  19. ^ Fowler, J.H.; Dawes, C.T.; Christakis, N.A. (February 2009). "Model of Genetic Variation in Human Social Networks". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (6): 1720–1724. PMC 2644104Freely accessible. PMID 19171900. doi:10.1073/pnas.0806746106. 
  20. ^ J.H. Fowler, J.E. Settle, and N.A. Christakis, "Correlated Genotypes in Friendship Networks," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (January 2011)
  21. ^ Nicholas A. Christakis (2014). "Friendship and natural selection". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111: 10796–10801. doi:10.1073/pnas.1400825111. Retrieved 13 November 2015. 
  22. ^ C.L. Apicella, F.W. Marlowe, J.H. Fowler, and N.A. Christakis, "Social Networks and Cooperation in Hunter-Gatherers," Nature (January 2012)
  23. ^ Christakis, N.A.; Fowler, J.H. (2010). "Social Network Sensors for Early Detection of Contagious Outbreaks". PLoS ONE. 5 (9): e12948. PMC 2939797Freely accessible. PMID 20856792. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012948. 
  24. ^ "Nicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemics | TED Talk". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  25. ^ "PLOS ONE". Retrieved 13 November 2015. 
  26. ^ Kim, David A.; Hwong, Alison R.; Stafford, Derek; Hughes, D. Alex; O'Malley, A. James; Fowler, James H.; Christakis, Nicholas A. (2015-07-11). "Social network targeting to maximise population behaviour change: a cluster randomised controlled trial". The Lancet. 386 (9989): 145–153. ISSN 0140-6736. PMC 4638320Freely accessible. PMID 25952354. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60095-2. 
  27. ^ Shirado, Hirokazu; Christakis, Nicholas A. (2017). "Locally noisy autonomous agents improve global human coordination in network experiments". Nature. 545 (7654): 370–374. doi:10.1038/nature22332. 
  28. ^ Sharlet, Jeff. "Prognosis:Death". The Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  29. ^ "Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  30. ^ "Connected". Hachette Book Group. 2009-09-28. Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  31. ^ Clive Tomson, "Is Happiness Catching," The New York Times, September 14, 2009.
  32. ^ P. Glare and N.A. Christakis, eds., Prognosis in Advanced Cancer, Oxford University Press, 2008 ISBN 978-0-19-853022-0
  33. ^ 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
  34. ^ "Whither Goes Free Speech at Harvard?;". Retrieved 2016-07-13. 
  35. ^ "Dressing Yourselves". Retrieved 2016-01-06. 
  36. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor. "The New Intolerance of Student Activism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  37. ^ a b We The Internet (2017-03-22), Silence U Part 2: What Has Yale Become? | We the Internet Documentary, retrieved 2017-03-23 
  38. ^ 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. 
  39. ^ White, Gillian. "The Problem With Vilifying the Yale Student Activists". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  40. ^ "Yale Students Demand Resignations from Faculty Members Over Halloween Email;". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  41. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor. "The New Intolerance of Student Activism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-01-04. 
  42. ^ "Letter of Support For Erika and Nicholas Christakis". Retrieved 2016-01-04. 
  43. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor (26 May 2016). "The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale". The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  44. ^ Christakis, Nicholas. "Teaching Inclusion in a Divided World". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-10-07. 
  45. ^ Kirchick, James. "New Videos Show How Yale Betrayed Itself by Favoring Cry-Bullies". Tablet. Retrieved 2016-09-23. 
  46. ^ Christakis, Erika (2016-10-28). "My Halloween email led to a campus firestorm". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-10-29. 
  47. ^ Fox, Claire (2016) "I find that offensive", Biteback.
  48. ^ Ring, Callista (2017-04-02). "The Simpsons Lampoons PC-Obsessed College Students". Newsbuster. Retrieved 2017-04-08. 
  49. ^ Cabranes, J (2017). Campus Speech in Crisis: What the Yale Experience Can Teach America. New York: Encounter Books. 
  50. ^ Dattel, G (2017). Reckoning with Race: America’s Failure. New York: Encounter Books. 
  51. ^ Fox, C (2017). I Find that Offensive. London: Biteback. 
  52. ^ Furedi, F (2017). What’s Happened to the University? A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantalisation. London: Routledge. 
  53. ^ Schwartz, HS (2016). Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 
  54. ^ Harris, Sam. "Facing the Crowd". Retrieved 2017-10-11. 
  55. ^ Kolin, Danielle. "House Master Families Reflect". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2016-08-15. 
  56. ^ [Tabata, Kazumi, Warrior Wisdom, Tuttle publishing, 2013, ISBN 978-4805312711]
  57. ^

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