Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., is an internist and social scientist who conducts research on social factors that affect health, health care, and longevity. He is a Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Professor of Medical Sociology in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School; and Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Christakis' current work is principally concerned with health and social networks, and specifically with how ill health, disability, health behavior, health care, and death in one person can influence the same phenomena in a person's social network. Most recently, Dr. Christakis has been exploring the joint genetic and socio-environmental determinants of the formation and operation of human social networks. His 2009 book, co-authored with James H. Fowler and published by Little, Brown and Company, is called "Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives."
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Nicholas Christakis: There’s a sort of a funny saying, which is that whenever people are free to choose anything they want, they usually choose what their friends have chosen. This mimicry that we humans evince is extremely fundamental. Therefore, networks provide us a kind of mathematical, social and biological tool to understand the kind of fundamental basis for this mimicry because you copy the people to whom you are connected primarily and you come to copy them along a whole variety of traits. In the workplace these traits might include things like how energized you are at work or how innovative you are at work or how cooperative you are at work or whether you smoke or not or other health traits. All these desirable properties -- your productivity, your innovativeness, your cooperativeness, your health -- come to depend upon the like attributes in individuals to whom you're connected.
You copy the people to whom you are connected primarily and you come to copy them along a whole variety of traits.