Connected: How Social Networks Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do
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  James Fowler   James Fowler
UC San Diego


Wednesday, May 1, 2013
04:45 PM - 05:30 PM

Level:  Business / Non-Technical

The public is obsessed with social networking and the new ways to connect online, but scholars have been studying social networks for decades. Our research shows that if you want to understand this new phenomenon, you have to start with the real, every day, face-to-face networks we have always had, ever since we were huddled around campfires on the Serengeti.

I will describe my research in the Framingham Heart Study showing that social networks have a powerful effect on obesity, smoking, drinking, happiness, loneliness, depression. This research suggests there is a "Three Degrees of Influence Rule": everything we feel, think, or do affects our friends, our friends' friends, and even our friends' friends' friends. We have also extended this work to a nationwide sample of adolescents and to participants in laboratory experiments to study drug use, sleep behavior, and generosity.

I will then describe our recent work that suggests social networks are a fundamental part of our human identity -- hunter-gatherers in Africa have networks just like ours, and we are also finding evidence that even our genes affect how we connect to one another. With a foundation in understanding real world networks, we can consider how these networks function online.

I will describe some early work we did on Facebook, and a recent experiment we conducted with 61 million people in the 2010 US Election. I will conclude by describing some of the ways this research is being implemented in business settings to improve targeting and engagement, with real consequences for return on investment.

Connected is the winner of a “Books for a Better Life Award” and has been translated into nearly twenty languages. It was named an Editor’s Choice by the New York Times Book Review, and was featured in Wired, Oprah’s Reading Guide, Business Week’s Best Books of the Year, GOOD’s 15 Books You Must Read, and featured as a cover story in the New York Times Magazine.

Harvard PhD and professor at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. James Fowler’s research interests and expertise include social networks, behavioral economics, evolutionary game theory, political participation, the evolution of cooperation, and the genetic basis of political behavior. A new kind of political scientist, Dr. Fowler melds the social with the biological, pushing the boundaries of his field to discover, for example, that smoking, obesity, and happiness spread within social networks, and that genes affect voting behavior.

Dr. Fowler has published over 40 articles in a wide range of multidisciplinary and social science journals, including Nature, Science, New England Journal of Medicine, British Medical Journal, Journal of Politics, American Political Science Review, American Journal of Sociology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the American Journal of Political Science.

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