a small campus after all
There may be six degrees of separation out in the larger world,
but on the Sacramento State campus a researcher and her students
have found that there can be fewer than three degrees of separation
among the thousands of people here—making a big university
seem much smaller and friendlier than might be expected.
research shows that it is indeed a small world on campus,”
said Gail Tom, professor of marketing. “I think this
‘small world’ phenomenon helps a large college
campus such as Sacramento State become a less intimidating
and alienating place.”
results of Tom’s study—titled “The University
is a Friendlier Place Thanks to the Small World Phenomenon”—was
published in a recent edition of Columbia University’s
Teachers College Record journal.
phrase “six degrees of separation” comes from
the experiment in the 1960s by social psychologist Stanley
Milgram, who found that members of any large social network
can be connected to each other through six intermediaries
or fewer. It also serves as the basis for the game “Six
Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which actors can be connected
to each other through their appearances in films with actor
and her students—Alice Chen, Harriet Liao, Jian Shao
and Raman Singh—wanted to test that theory on the Sacramento
State campus. “We wanted to use e-mail to determine
the average number of links needed for a randomly selected
person from the University population to reach another member
on this large campus,” Tom said.
were sent via e-mail to selected faculty and staff explaining
the purpose of the study. The participants were then directed
to a website where they were asked if they knew the “target
person” on a first-name basis. If not, they were to
recommend a faculty or staff member who might know the “target
person.” Tom and the student researchers then sent e-mails
to those recommended so they could establish a trail of links
until the “target person” was located.
found that when the sender and the target were both faculty
members, the average degree of separation was 1.3 degrees.
When the sender and target were both staff, the average was
2.05 degrees. And when the sender was staff and the target
was a student, the average was 2.3 degrees.
said she could not test a student-to-student arrangement because
she did not have access to enough student e-mail addresses,
since many students do not use their University e-mail account
as their primary e-mail address.
study’s results are similar to other studies but are
still surprising, she said. “It is difficult to understand,
intuitively, how a population of more than 30,000 can be connected
by fewer than four degrees of separation,” Tom said.
said that key to the structure of the small world phenomenon
are individuals who Tom calls “mavens,” persons
with a great deal of influence in social networks and who
serve as multipliers who pass on information to others. In
Tom’s study for example, 23 multiple senders who did
not know the target nursing student, recommended the chair
of the nursing division as someone to contact. Tom said that
the position of chair of the nursing division is a social
structure cue who serves as an informational hub who reaches
out and connects many people.
said the results of her study suggest that the small world
phenomenon is instrumental in the development of connectedness
among diverse social groups on campus.
small world phenomenon establishes and maintains the connectedness
that is critical to the harmony and affinity of the university
community by establishing critical links for communication,
dialog and interaction,” Tom says.