Very Social Science: A Review of Connected

By Pelin Kesebir | April 1, 2010 | 0 comments

Well-written and chock-full of fascinating research, Connected not only makes for great reading—it's also capable of forever changing the way we conceive of the social world. Authors Nicholas Christakis, a professor of medicine, sociology, and health care policy at Harvard, and James Fowler, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, guide us through the burgeoning field of social network science, offering sharp reminders of the extraordinary role other people play in shaping our lives, for better or worse.

If this doesn't strike you as a particularly novel insight, consider some of the findings from the book: College freshmen with depressed roommates become increasingly depressed themselves over a three-month period. Diners sitting next to heavy eaters end up eating more food. Homeowners with neighbors who garden wind up with better looking lawns.

Even more astonishing is that social influence does not end with the people we know; it extends out to three degrees of separation. So if a friend of a co-worker of our spouse gains weight, we tend to gain weight. If our sister's friend's brother stops smoking, we stop smoking. And if our friend's friend's friend becomes happy, we become happy. Our deeply embedded place in social networks makes whatever is flowing through these networks—be it germs, depression, suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, financial panic, fashions, or violence—come to affect us, like ripples in a pond.

As they explain how social connections might impact virtually every aspect of our lives, Christakis and Fowler also make connections across disciplines, from clinical psychology to evolutionary biology. The book is consistently stimulating, feeding the reader one intriguing study or story after another.

But perhaps Connected's greatest accomplishment is how successfully it drives home the point that we're all in this together. We're connected to each other with invisible threads in the vast fabric of humanity, and no matter how isolated our actions might sometimes seem, they have far-reaching effects on others, just as their actions affect us. A realization of this sort is apt to imbue readers with a sense of humility and responsibility toward others—feelings that should stay with them long after they finish this important book.

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About The Author

Pelin Kesebir, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who is currently a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Her research explores different aspects of existential human motivation and their implications for individual and societal well-being.


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