The Science of Six Degrees of Separation | Summary and Q&A

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August 26, 2015
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Veritasium
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The Science of Six Degrees of Separation

TL;DR

The concept of six degrees of separation, connecting any two people on Earth through six steps, is supported by scientific evidence and has even decreased to four degrees with the rise of social media.

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Key Insights

  • ✊ The interconnectedness of individuals on the internet was demonstrated by a viral code on MySpace, highlighting the power of networks.
  • 🍰 The theory of six degrees of separation has its origin in a 1929 short story and was later experimentally tested by psychologist Stanley Milgram.
  • 🍰 Real-world social networks exhibit both clustering behavior and short path lengths, supporting the existence of six degrees of separation.

Transcript

I have a friend named Sammy who back in the early 2000s wrote some code for his MySpace page. And what the code did was anybody who visited his page would have his picture and a tag line that said, “Sammy is my hero,” copied over to their homepage. And that was a bit of fun for a while, but Sammy wanted more. And so he tweaked his code so that no o... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did the concept of six degrees of separation come about?

The concept originated from a 1929 short story called "Chains" by Frigyes Karinthy, which challenged individuals to connect with others in fewer than five intermediaries. This evolved into the theory of six degrees of separation.

Q: How was the theory of six degrees of separation experimentally tested?

In the 1960s, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted the small world experiment by sending packages through acquaintances, finding that the average pathway was 5.2. However, the sample size for the experiment was small.

Q: Do real-world social networks support the theory of six degrees of separation?

Yes, the actor network analyzed in the game "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" displayed both short path lengths and clustering behavior, similar to a random network. This suggests the existence of six degrees of separation.

Q: How has the rise of social media affected the degrees of separation?

According to Facebook's data analysis in 2011, 92% of their users were connected through just five steps. The number of degrees of separation seems to be decreasing over time, possibly due to the increased connectivity of social media.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • A story of a MySpace user who created a code that went viral, highlighting the interconnectedness of individuals on the internet.

  • The theory of six degrees of separation originated in a 1929 short story, and was later tested by a psychologist sending packages through acquaintances, confirming its validity.

  • Real-world networks, such as actor connections, exhibit both clustering behavior and short path lengths, supporting the idea of six degrees of separation.

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