New social movements, technologies, and public-health initiatives often struggle to take off, yet many diseases disperse rapidly without issue. Can the lessons learned from the viral diffusion of diseases be used to improve the spread of beneficial behaviors and innovations? This talk presents over a decade of original research examining how changes in social behavior - in voting, health, technology, and finance - occur and the ways social networks can be used to influence how they propagate. The startling findings demonstrate how the most well-known, intuitive ideas about social networks have caused past diffusion efforts to fail, and how such efforts might succeed in the future. Pioneering the use of web-based methods to understand how changes in people's social networks alter their behaviors, these findings illustrate the ways in which these insights can be applied to solve countless problems of organizational change, cultural evolution, and social innovation, offering important lessons for public health workers, entrepreneurs and activists looking to harness networks for social change.
Damon Centola is an Associate Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is Director of the Network Dynamics Group. Before coming to Penn, he was an Assistant Professor at MIT, and a Robert Wood Johnson Fellow at Harvard University. His research includes social networks, social epidemiology, and web-based experiments on diffusion and cultural evolution.
His work has been published across several disciplines in journals of Sociology, and Journal Statistical Physics. Damon received the American Sociological Association's Award for Outstanding Article in Mathematical Sociology in 2006, 2009, and 2011, and was awarded the ASA's 2011 Goodman Price for Outstanding Contributions to Sociological Methodology and the 2017 James Coleman Award for Outstanding Research in Rationality and Society. He was a developer of NetLogo agent-based modeling environment and was awarded a U.S. patent for inventing a method to promote diffusion in online networks. He is a member of the Sci Foo community and Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
Popular accounts of Damon's work have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, TIME, and CNN. His research has been funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the James S. McDonnell Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation. He is a series editor for Princeton University Press, and has a forthcoming book (June 2018) with Princeton Press, entitled How Behavior Spreads: The Science of Complex Contagions.
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SFI’s 2018 Community Lecture Series is supported by Thornburg Investment Management, with additional support provided by The Lensic Performing Arts Center.