You may not have heard the term "social contagion" before.  But I expect you have observed its influence.  New scientific studies are identifying how our family and friends can influence the choices we make.  Some choices are quite obvious like choosing where we live or where we work.  But less obvious choices are also often the result of the impact of the people we are around .

     Choices like whether we stay married or divorce, whether we exercise and eat well or become obese, whether we have professional success or failure are often highly influenced by those around us. In fact, research indicates that behavior and emotions are extremely contagious.  This might help to explain why before the Great Recession millions of people bought houses they could not afford.

    Nicholas A, Christakis, MD, PhD, was named one of one hundred most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009 for his work on social contagion.    With his colleague, political scientist, James Fowler, PhD, he researched the issue of overeating and obesity which has been identified at epidemic levels in the United States.  He found that nine states in the USA report that more than 30 percent of their residents are obese.  Christakis and Fowler used a study that had been done in Framingham, Massachusetts over thirty years.  This tracked the details of thousands of people and their connections and how they interacted.  The researchers found that the spread of obesity followed a pattern similar to the way the flu spread.  The Framingham study indicated that if you had a family member or friend who was obese, your risk of becoming obese was 45% higher.  Even if a friend of a friend was obese, it increased your risk of obesity by 25%.  So the health of your extended social network is a key factor in determining your health.

     The researchers went on to study other issues moving through human networks like suicide, sexual practices, back pain and suicide.  They found that there were "Three Degrees of Influence"  That choices and actions could be influenced clear out to friends' friends' friends. Issues like divorce are considered so personal but the ripple effect of social contagion found that if you have a friend divorcing, that increases the likelihood that you will divorce by around 147%.  

     Christakis and Fowler found that behaviors such as smoking and overeating, can be influenced by friends who live hundreds of miles away.  Obviously individual thinking, cultural upbringing and genetics all contribute to our behavior, but this research found that social contagion is also a power influence.  If you socialize with family and friends who are obese, it can change your idea of what is acceptable body size.  If you are around heavy smokers or drinkers, you may allow yourself those options as well.

    So what can you do with this information?  Do NOT abandon friends and family.  Know that the benefits of being connected are far more important than the costs.  The researchers found that the most consistently happy group of people were those who had lots of friends.  But  remember your actions and choices can influence others as well.  So ask what you can do for those in your group of family and friends.  When you quit smoking, start exercising or lose weight,  your influence will benefit not only you, but your friends and family as well.

      If you need help to make those changes, hypnosis can help you quit smoking, lose weight or get motivated to make some other positive change.  Use hypnosis and BE WELL.