- The path that connects two people does not usually exceed six people.
- People seek to make connections with other people that will benefit them in the future.
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No matter who you are or where you are from, you are only six acquaintances away from meeting any random person in the world.
The six degrees of separation have been ingrained in folklore since it was first theorized in 1967, but now a study claims to have confirmed the phenomenon.
People naturally seek prominence on social media, strategically choosing connections that put them in central positions. But forming new relationships can be onerous and costly, so they constantly have to determine whether the cost is worth some measure of social benefit.
A team of international scientists claims to have Verified this phenomenon after determining that the goal of most people is not to make many connections but to get the right ones.
The researchers took a game-theoretic approach starting with nodes A, B, C, and D, all representing people who, in each round of the game, could choose to establish connections with neighbors outside of their networks.
As they make new connections, people perform cost-benefit analyzes in their heads, essentially figuring out who in those networks is important enough to connect and how it would benefit them.
The game ends when the participating people have exhausted the connections they want to establish to increase their own social position. At this point, the concept of the “six degrees” comes into play.
Dr. Baruch Barzel, one of the lead authors of the article, stated: “When we did the math, we discovered a surprising result: This process always ends with social paths centered on the number six.
“Each individual acts independently without knowledge of the network as a whole, but this self-directed play shapes the structure of the entire network, leading to the small world phenomenon and the recurring six-degree pattern.”
The 14 researchers involved in the study highlighted that they are from Israel, Spain, Italy, Russia, Slovenia and Chile, but somehow they found the way together to experiment.
Dr. Barzel stated: “This collaboration is a great example of how all six degrees can work to our advantage.
‘How else could a team from six countries from all over the world come together? This really is six degrees in action!’
The idea of six degrees of separation first arose in a short story written by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in 1929. But the theory received renewed attention when it was taken up by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1967, who carried out what he called the little world experiment.
Milgram provided the people of Nebraska with letters to send to the “target” people of Boston. If the Nebrascan knew the Bostonian, the letter would be sent directly.
But in most cases, the initial person would send the letter to a person in Massachusetts who they think might know the target person in Boston.
This triggers a chain of sending the letter from one intermediary to another until it finally reaches the target person.
The average number of times the cards had to be passed to reach the corridor was six, or 6.2, and a new phrase was born.
However, their findings were inconclusive, as the experiment had several flaws. For example, people lost interest in the experiment or lost the envelopes they were supposed to mail.
Since then, the theory has been tested many times by researchers, as well as by the everyday user of Twitter and Facebook. The theory also rose to prominence in pop culture with the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which is based on the idea that every actor in Hollywood is connected to him.
The team’s findings were published in the journal. Physical Review X .