The ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ and how it could work

Before I start explaining this great site I came across the other day, let me just say that I absolutely love Wikipedia. I use it almost every day and can get lost on there for ages just linking from one topic to another.

That’s where comes along. The site works on the same principle as the ‘Six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ game which states that any actor can be linked through their film roles to Kevin Bacon. That again is based on the theory of the small world phenomenon. Bare with me, this is getting somewhere!

The small world phenomenon theory believes that every person in this world is interlinked through a chain of aquaintances. So somehow through this chain I am interlinked to anyone on this planet. Stanley Milgram, the founder of the theory ‘The six degrees of separation’, further believes that every US citizen is connected through acquaintances and other relationships with at most six other people. He attempted proving that in an experiment he conducted in 1967.

In this experiment he sent 60 letters to citizens in Nebraska who had to pass the letter on to a stockbroker living in Sharon, Massachusetts. 50 people took up the challenge, but only 3 of the letters arrived, one of them in just 4 days though. In experiments following the initial one he changed several parameters, including letting participants believe that the parcel was more or less valuable. He had completion rates of 35% and researchers even claimed it as high as 97%.

During all of the studies Milgram conducted the average number of links to reaching a destination was 6. Close-knit communities, such as a Jewish community in Montreal, had a higher success rate than others. Several researchers have attempted recreating it in later times; the most recent one being over the internet in 2001 which again caused the average intermediaries to be 6.

Personally I think that it’s quite an exiting study, but it depends very much on the participants itself. For example people with a bigger circle of friends/acquaintances are more likely to be interlinked with more people and it is up to the participants to find the connections themselves. The world may be small, but you need to find it.

Strangely enough this site I found has something in relation to two things in this post. The site calls itself the ‘meandering search engine’ and ‘finds the shortest paths between any two things’ using the Wikipedia database. It is very useful if you want to know the connection between anything or just simply bored.

Have a look over on their site and see with what connections you come up with. The longest one I’ve seen so far was six.


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13 Responses to The ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ and how it could work

  1. Matt - zyber says:

    Yea i like the theory and really enjoyed the movie about the theory. I like explaining it to people and use myself as an example. So here is the link between you (cat) and Keanu Reeves.

    You know me.
    I went to High school with a girl.
    The girl had a farther.
    The farther had a step brother.
    The Step brother was called Hugo Weaving.
    Hugo Weaving worked on the matrix with Keanu Reeves.

    If you havent seen the movie i highly reconmend it, Will Smiths best movie ever.


  2. carocat says:

    Which film do you mean? I know that there are several about it.

    I like the theory a lot, makes the world seem a lot smaller I suppose.


  3. bal says:

    Good ol’ Milgram. I had to study him waay too much in school.

    Nice blog.
    (P.S. your not alone about the wikipedia thing :) )


  4. carocat says:

    Thank god, I’m not the only one…. It’s just crazy how much time I can spend on there.

    I never really studies Milgram or any of the others, maybe that’s why I’m catching up on it now. :)


  5. carol says:

    The Lost series is based on this theory and the theory was first made public by a Russian scientist if i am not mistaken.


  6. Matt - zyber says:

    @ carol – do you mean lost as in the TV series which jack and kate etc? Did you know that the creator of that series, J.J. Abrams actually appeared in the movie i just posted in my last comment. Must be where he got the idea from. ;)


  7. carocat says:

    Yeah, i’ve heard about that film and the J. J. Abrahms connection is listed in Wikipedia.

    Lost is based on it, although that only really becomes apparent in later episodes. Do you watch Lost then, Carol?

    Are you referring to the Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy? He had the idea and published it in 1929. Milgram took over and proved it with his experiments.


  8. Lexi says:

    I’m not sure how to use the website…can you help me?


  9. Cat says:

    Which website?

    It’s simple, you type in one thing, say ‘Chinese Wall’ and then another one, say ‘George Clooney’ and it’ll find the connections. For that example it comes up with this.

    Hope that helps. :)


  10. Pingback: Lisa Kudrow, the Jedi Council and the Six degrees of Seperation « Cat’s blog

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