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IDSS Distinguished Seminar Series

Social Network Experiments – Nicholas Christakis (Yale University)

November 7, 2017 @ 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

MIT Building 32, Room 141




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.



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.

MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307