“Six Degrees of Separation” might be a popular song by The Script, but this phenomenon really does exist in real life.
Have you ever met someone who knows a mutual acquaintance? Start asking those in your network about their social ties.
You might be surprised to realize that despite the immense size of the human race, seemingly random individuals can be linked to each other through comparably tiny chains of acquaintances. Normally, this number ends up being around six.
Scientists recently set out to study this phenomenon and discovered that it could be explained mathematically.
Even more, they found that the “magic of six degrees” can also be linked to a different social experience– the challenge of weighing cost versus benefit when developing new friendships.
One example that illustrates this phenomenon best took place back in 1967, when a letter was received by a farmer in Omaha, Nebraska. The person who penned the letter was Professor Stanley Milgram from Harvard University, who was hoping to get into contact with one of his colleagues.
“If you happen to know this person, please forward this letter to him,” the correspondence read.
After traveling from Harvard University– which is located in Boston– to Omaha, the chances of this letter finding Professor Milgram’s intended peer were extremely low. So, the professor asked that if the recipient did not know that intended person, to please pass it along to someone who may.
This letter was just one of approximately 300 identical letters sent throughout the United States. They all sought to find “Joe,” a man from the farmlands, and link him with the prestigious East Coast university.