To What Degree are You Influenced by Your Friends and Their Friends?

Explaining the dynamics of social networks and how they shape our lives

We are strongly influenced by our friends. But it's not only our friends that influence us, it goes deeper; our friends' their friends' and to the third degree, their friends' also impact our choices. Dr. James Fowler is studying the effects of social networks and how they sway our lives and decisions. His studies look at how everything we do or say tends to ripple through our social networks. His research will examine the degrees of influence and the effects this influence plays on our daily lives.

  • He will study the impact on our friends (one degree), our friends' friends (two degrees), and even our friends' friends' friends (third degrees). 

  • His research suggests that if you have a friend in your social network that is obese, your risk of being obese significantly increases.

  • It also suggests that generosity spreads up to three degrees of separation -  every extra dollar of giving causes other people to give more, too, and the total effect is three times larger than the initial act of kindness.  In other words, the network acts like a matching grant.

  • It will also look at how friends influence each other to vote in real life, sighting one study that demonstrated how a single message on Facebook caused an additional 60,000 users and 280,000 of their friends to vote in the 2010 US national election as the message spread from person to person.


James Fowler earned a PhD from Harvard in 2003 and is currently Professor of Medical Genetics and Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. His work lies at the intersection of the natural and social sciences, with a focus on social networks, behavior, evolution, politics, genetics, and big data.

James was recently named a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, one of Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers, TechCrunch's Top 20 Most Innovative People in Democracy, and Most Original Thinker of the year by The McLaughlin Group. He has also appeared on The Colbert Report.

His research has been cited more than 10,000 times and featured in numerous best-of lists including New York Times Magazine's Year in Ideas, Time's Year in Medicine, Discover Magazine's Year in Science, and Harvard Business Review's Breakthrough Business Ideas.

Together with Nicholas Christakis, James wrote a book on social networks for a general audience called Connected. Winner of a Books for a Better Life Award, it has been translated into twenty languages, named an Editor's Choice by the New York Times Book Review, and featured in Wired, Oprah's Reading Guide, Business Week's Best Books of the Year, and a cover story in New York Times Magazine.

In the News

Colbert Nation

Dr. Fowler talks about the strong influence of social networks and how they affect our lives

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Some researchers suggest social media may affect our mental health and well-being


Nifty 50, 2014

USA Science and Engineering Festival

Future-ish, 2013

List of Top Public Intellectuals

20 Most Innovative People In Democracy, 2012


Top 100 Global Thinkers, 2010

Foreign Policy