James H. Fowler

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Wikipedia: James H. Fowler

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2013 findings

James Fowler of UC San Diego and Nicolas Christakis of Harvard have demonstrated that helping is contagious: Acts of generosity, compassion, and kindness beget more generosity in a chain reaction of goodness. This is how culture is formed. Isn’t that the kind of workplace culture you would want to work in or lead? (comes from http://newsle.com/article/0/70145038/)


See: Cosma Shalizi - Plausible and Implausible Effects New York Times magazine explores research on social networks effects in health.

  • An in-depth article published September 10th examines evidence from several studies – including Add Health – regarding the theory that health behaviors can pass from friend to friend like contagious “viruses.”

The September 10th edition of the New York Times magazine featured an in-depth article on social contagion effects in health and happiness. The article examined evidence from several studies – including Add Health – regarding the theory that health behaviors can pass from friend to friend like contagious “viruses.”

At the heart of the discussion is recent research conducted by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. The pair analyzed social connections between participants in the Framingham Heart Study and found that several behaviors and conditions – including smoking, drinking, obesity, and happiness – appeared to spread from person to person. For example, “When a Framingham resident became obese, his or her friends were 57 percent more likely to become obese, too. Even more astonishing…was the fact that the effect did not stop there. In fact, it appeared to skip links.”

When Christakis and Fowler repeated their analyses using Add Health data, they found the same three-degree pattern of contagion for obesity. However, research by other Add Health investigators has called into question whether confounding effects such as homophily – the tendency of people to gravitate toward others who are like them – or shared environment are at play.

Regardless of how one judges the evidence, Christakis and Fowler’s work may suggest “a new way to think about public health. If they’re right, public-health initiatives that merely address the affected individuals are doomed to failure.” (September 10, 2009. Are Your Friends Making You Fat? In New York Times magazine.)

To read the entire New York Times magazine article, click here

This article is based on research published as the following:

Christakis, Nicholas A. and James H. Fowler. 2007. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. New England Journal of Medicine 26, 357(4): 370-9.

Cohen-Cole, and Jason M. Fletcher ("CCF"). 2008. Detecting implausible social network effects in acne, height, and headaches: longitudinal analysis. BMJ 337:a2533. "After adjustment for environmental confounders, ... the results become uniformly smaller and insignificant

Fowler, James H. and Nicholas A. Christakis. 2008. Estimating peer effects on health in social networks: a response to Cohen-Cole and Fletcher; and Trogdon, Nonnemaker, and Pais. Journal of Health Economics 27(5): 1400-5. Reply to CCF: "We attempted to replicate the CCF results but were unable to do so, even after several efforts to acquire information about specific details of CCF’s modeling choices from CCF. We first relied on their manuscript and supplement, but it gives an incomplete description of the model; for example, it was unclear how income data were imputed. We then contacted CCF to ask for the code they used to generate their results. They were unwilling to share this code.We therefore wrote new code to analyze the AddHealth data to replicate their results; we sent it to them and asked them to comment. A brief response from CCF stated that a “difference in our approaches is that we ‘lock in’ Wave 1 friends—that is, we do not allow individuals to switch friends over time.” This is an important and noteworthy omission from their description in the paper since Add Health (like the FHS-Net data) contains dynamic information about friendships at later waves, yet they chose instead to ignore this information and rely on a static representation of that data. This will cause them to assume some individuals continue to be friends when, in fact, they are not. This assumption by CCF stacks the deck against finding an effect, since it essentially adds “random” non-friend relationships (i.e., people who are no longer friends) to the pool of friends."

Justin Trogdon, James Nonnemaker, and Joanne Pais “Peer Effects in Adolescent Overweight” Science Direct

Timothy J. Halliday and Sally Kwak “Identifying Endogenous Peer Effects in the Spread of Obesity

Abstract: Social networks show striking structural regularities1, 2, and both theory and evidence suggest that networks may have facilitated the development of large-scale cooperation in humans3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Here, we characterize the social networks of the Hadza, a population of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania8. We show that Hadza networks have important properties also seen in modernized social networks, including a skewed degree distribution, degree assortativity, transitivity, reciprocity, geographic decay and homophily. We demonstrate that Hadza camps exhibit high between-group and low within-group variation in public goods game donations. Network ties are also more likely between people who give the same amount, and the similarity in cooperative behaviour extends up to two degrees of separation. Social distance appears to be as important as genetic relatedness and physical proximity in explaining assortativity in cooperation. Our results suggest that certain elements of social network structure may have been present at an early point in human history. Also, early humans may have formed ties with both kin and non-kin, based in part on their tendency to cooperate. Social networks may thus have contributed to the emergence of cooperation.


Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. 2009 Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How they Shape our Lives. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. (Available in Kindle format for the iPhone). http://connectedthebook.com

Exemplary articles

2011. Causality in Political Networks (with Michael T. Heaney, David W. Nickerson, John F. Padgett, Betsy Sinclair) American Politics Research, forthcoming

2010. The Behavioral Logic of Collective Action: Partisans Cooperate & Punish More Than Non‐Partisans (with Oleg Smirnov, Christopher T. Dawes, Tim Johnson, Richard McElreath) Political Psychology 31 (4): 595–616 (August 2010)

2010. The Spread of Alcohol Consumption Behavior in a Large Social Network (with J. Niels Rosenquist, Joanne Murabito, Nicholas A. Christakis) Annals of Internal Medicine 152 (7): 426–433 (6 April 2010)

2010. Cooperative Behavior Cascades in Human Social Networks (with Nicholas A. Christakis) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (12): 5334–5338 (23 March 2010)

2008. A Model of Genetic Variation in Human Social Networks James H. Fowler, Christopher T. Dawes, Nicholas A. Christakis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (6): 1720–1724. see: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/6/1720.short

Matthew O. Jackson. 2009. Genetic influences on social network characteristics PNAS Commentary on A Model of Genetic Variation in Human Social Networks.

see: Exploring Genetics and Social Structure Guest Editor, Peter Bearman; Guest Associate Editors, Molly A. Martin and Sara Shostak

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