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


  1. I encourage everyone to go to Fowler's talk, and then, to hear why it is based on faulty methods, to this talk in Rawles Hall 100 on Monday Nov. 11:

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