Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a social scientist and physician who conducts research on social factors that affect health, health care, and longevity. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Harvard University. He is Professor of Medical Sociology in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School; Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; and an Attending Physician in the Department of Medicine at the Harvard-affiliated Mt. Auburn Hospital. He is the Master of the Pforzheimer House in Harvard College.
Dr. Christakis's current research is focused on the relationship between social networks and health. People are inter-connected, and so their health is inter-connected. This research engages two types of phenomena: the social, mathematical, and biological rules governing how social networks form ("connection"), and the biological and social implications of how they operate to influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors ("contagion").
His research involves the application of network science and mathematical models to understand the dynamics of health in longitudinally evolving networks. To the extent that health behaviors such as smoking, drinking, or unhealthy eating spread within networks in intelligible ways, there are substantial implications for our understanding of health behavior and health policy. This body of work has also engaged the spread of obesity and of emotional states such as happiness, depression, and loneliness. Other recent work has involved experiments examining the network spread of altruism, here and here. Most recently, he has become interested in the genetics and evolutionary biology of social network structure here, here, and here. His book on the way social networks affect our lives, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives is available here. This book has been translated into nearly 20 foreign languages, and it has been widely reviewed. His main collaborator in this research is James Fowler.
Current work in the lab is focused on exploring fundamental properties of human social networks. Some work involves the use of large-scale, online experiments (related papers here and here). Other work examines the biological determinants and consequences of social network interactions, with a particular emphasis on the genetic origins and implications of human network interactions. Other ongoing investigations in the lab consider the biodemographic determinants of longevity and the genetic bases for human behaviors.
Dr. Christakis's past work has examined neighborhood effects on health, the accuracy and role of prognosis in medicine, ways of improving end-of-life care, the widowhood effect ("dying of a broken heart"), and the determinants and outcomes of hospice use. His book on prognosis, Death Foretold: Prophecy and Prognosis in Medical Care, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1999; it was widely reviewed and was translated into Japanese in 2006.
Dr. Christakis's research has implications for diverse behavioral interventions, and for clinical and policy maneuvers to prevent and treat illness.
Dr. Christakis received his BS degree from Yale University, his MD from Harvard Medical School, his MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health, and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He has served on many editorial boards and review committees both in the United States and abroad. Over the past several years, he has given invited talks in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. He has taught quantitative research design, social epidemiology, medical sociology (including Sociology 190 at Harvard College), and palliative medicine.
He was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006, and was made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010. In 2009, Christakis was named by Time magazine to their annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2009 and in 2010, he was listed by Foreign Policy magazine in their annual list of Top 100 Global Thinkers.
Nicholas Christakis is a co-founder, director and equity holder of Activate Networks, a company that uses network analysis to help businesses leverage social connections. He is also an equity holder of Ditto Labs, a company that provides product and service recommendations based on trends of shared photographs. In addition, he is a a Senior Scientist advising Gallup, Inc., a company focused on survey research and analysis.
The Human Nature Lab is committed to independent, unbiased research and to that end takes every precaution to prevent interference from professional affiliations in the integrity of its members' work.
To learn more about Dr. Christakis, visit his etcetera page.