November 6, 2013

Upcoming Lecture: "How Do Social Networks Affect Your Health?"

Tomorrow evening, IU will receive a visit from Dr. James Fowler, who co-authored Themester's featured book: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. In the following interview, Professor Armando Razo (Political Science), who assisted in the organization of Fowler's upcoming lecture, discusses the author's work and how it will feature into his talk this coming Thursday. Razo and Fowler are both members of the Political Networks (POLNET) section of the American Political Science Assocation (APSA).

Fowler relates social networks to obesity, depression, etc. In what ways might social networks affect your health positively?

Fowler and co-authors have studied both positive and negative effects. Perhaps the negative effects get more press attention, but just like bad health habits can be (socially) transmitted through networks, so can good habits. In fact, this line of research also shows that social networks can be very important for social support and emotional well-being.

The event description references a "Three Degrees of Influence Rule." What is this rule and how does it operate in Fowler's research?

This rule quantifies the measurable impact or "reach" of social networks on individual behaviors. Network analysts measure social distance by counting how many steps (degrees) it takes for one person to draw a connection to another. Direct connections are just one step away (e.g., someone's "friend"). Indirect connections take two or more steps. For example, it takes two steps to reach "a friend of a friend" and so on.

In particular, Fowler and Christakis argue with their "Three Degrees of Influence Rule" that somewhat distant people (up to a third degree) can have an impact upon us. Of course we know our friends, and we may even know our friends' friends. But it's less likely that we would know the friends of our friends' friends; that's why they say that we can be impacted by people unknown to us.

What is most interesting about Fowler's work to you?

James Fowler's work spans several disciplines in very interesting ways, so this is a hard question to answer. Among others, I would say that the most interesting aspect is the public policy implications of his research. That is, if we can establish that social networks matter for public health and other important phenomena, what can (or should) we do about it, either as individuals or societies?

For more information about Fowler's book, visit click here.
For more information about Fowler's lecture, visit our calendar.
Time and Date: 5:30 p.m., Thursday, November 7
Location: Whittenberger Auditorium, IMU

Amber Hendricks
Themester 2013 Intern

November 4, 2013

Ending Stigma, Changing Minds, and Saving Lives through Mental Health Advocacy

Professor Bernice Pescosolido (Sociology), discusses the upcoming Glenn Close lecture, "Ending Stigma, Changing Minds, and Saving Lives through Mental Health Advocacy." Pescosolido served as both as an organizer of the lecture and as Chair of the Themester 2013 committee. She is also the Director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research.

How will Close's lecture engage themes of networks and connectedness?

There are two unique aspects of Bring Change 2 Mind that make it uniquely connected to what we do here at Indiana University. First, BC2M is one of the few advocacy organizations closely tied to science and research in all of its efforts. This makes our mission of Themester and the work of BC2M tied not only in terms of building connectedness between IU and the national advocacy efforts, but also in terms of Glenn Close's message and direction. She is focusing on ending the stigma, isolation, and lack of connectedness that people with mental illness often experience. Stigma hinders the search for treatment and the societal resources that go to mental health care because it results in prejudice and discrimination.

What is Bring Change 2 Mind doing to curb the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness? Where can people find the "Public Education Materials" that the organization distributes?

There are so many things that they are doing. It is hard to list them all. People share their stories on the website, which for many people is the first place they disclose their illness publicly. BC2M partners with organizations such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to bring visibility to the issue of stigma and discrimination through organized walks. They raise money for research to make their efforts are based on data that supports effectiveness. Glenn has been able to bring her star power to bear in terms of hundreds of hours donated by producers, directors, and other creative people to create messages and media.

To learn more about the organization, visit the Bring Change 2 Mind website.

For information about the lecture, click here to see our calendar.

Amber Hendricks
Themester 2013 Intern