It takes just a handful of individuals to really make a difference. When people benefit from kindness they “pay it forward” by helping others who were not originally involved, creating a cascade of cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network.


“Young alumni recognize that their experiences at UC San Diego were all made possible by the generous support of philanthropists. I am honored to do my part and join that community of supporters.” —Seth Klonsky ’04, Muir College economics major, first alumnus to join CAYA

CHANCELLOR’S ASSOCIATES YOUNG ALUMNI (CAYA) inspires philanthropy–even in the youngest alums. The five-year-old program helps recent graduates of UC San Diego to develop philanthropic behavior by giving back to their alma mater.

Seth Klonsky

The parent organization, Chancellor’s Associates, consists of supporters who make unrestricted gifts of $1,500 to more than $10,000 each year. In return, they are invited to special UC San Diego events and are among the first to hear about new campus initiatives.

CAYA members enjoy the benefits of Chancellor’s Associates at lower annual donation levels: $500 for alumni who have graduated within the last five years, and $1,000 for alumni who graduated in the last six to nine years.

In a study published in the March 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, researchers from UC San Diego and Harvard University provided the first laboratory evidence that cooperative behavior is contagious and spreads from person to person to person.

The research was conducted by James Fowler, Ph.D., UC San Diego professor in the Department of Political Science and School of Medicine, and an affiliate in the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology’s (Calit2) Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems; and Nicholas Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard University professor in the Department of Sociology, and professor of medicine and medical sociology at Harvard Medical School. Fowler and Christakis are coauthors of the recently published book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

The study indicates that when one person gives money to help others in a “public-goods game,” where people have the opportunity to cooperate with one another, the recipients are more likely to give their own money away to other people in future games. This creates a domino effect in which one person’s generosity spreads first to three people and then to the nine people that those three people interact with in the future, and then to other individuals in subsequent waves of the experiment.

The effect persists, people don’t revert to being selfish, and the network functions like a matching grant. Although humans have direct experience with giving and seeing people’s immediate reactions, they typically don’t see how their generosity cascades through the social network to affect the lives of dozens or maybe hundreds of other unseen people.

In previous work demonstrating the contagious spread of behaviors, emotions, and ideas—including obesity, happiness, smoking cessation, and loneliness—Fowler and Christakis examined social networks re-created from the records of the Framingham Heart Study. Unlike Framingham and other observational studies, Fowler and Christakis’s pay-it-forward laboratory study is the first to document experimentally their earlier findings that social contagion travels in networks up to three degrees of separation. The work was funded by the National Institute on Aging, the John Templeton Foundation, and a Pioneer grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Children between ages three and twenty are participating in the PING (for pediatric imaging, neurorecognition, and genetics) study under way in the Division of Social Sciences.

Mapping Young Minds

UC SAN DIEGO IS COMMITTED TO IMPROVING LIVES, and the PING study (for pediatric imaging, neurocognition, and genetics) is critically important for solving a range of problems that affect children.

Using sophisticated gene-mapping tools and imaging technology, researchers from at least seven different UC San Diego departments are looking for the biological basis of differences in human behavior. The findings could help to enhance education, improve detection of mental disorders, and identify targets for early intervention that might prevent addiction and other negative outcomes.

Project funding comes from a stimulus grant of nearly $9 million awarded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2009 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The UC-based study involves ten sites throughout the country and is expected to create approximately twenty-five new jobs.

The Center for Human Development, an interdisciplinary research unit in the Division of Social Sciences, is coordinating the effort, and the advanced neuroimaging work is based in the Multimodal Imaging Laboratory in the Department of Radiology at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. Co-principal investigators of the project at UC San Diego are professor of cognitive science Terry L. Jernigan, Ph.D., and professor of neurosciences Anders M. Dale, Ph.D. Researchers aim to develop a searchable database or map for the scientific community that depicts the genomic landscape of the developing human brain.

Since structural and functional connectivity in the brain undergoes continuous remodeling during childhood, the study consists of 1,400 children between the ages of three and twenty. All information contained in the database is stripped of personal identifiers and codified in order to preserve the privacy of the participants.