How Physical Proximity Shapes Complex Social Networks

Arkadiusz Stopczynski, Alex 'Sandy' Pentland, Sune Lehmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

273 Downloads (Pure)


Social interactions among humans create complex networks and - despite a recent increase of online communication - the interactions mediated through physical proximity remain a fundamental way for people to connect. A common way to quantify the nature of the links between individuals is to consider repeated interactions: frequently occurring interactions indicate strong ties, such as friendships, while ties with low weights can indicate random encounters. Here we focus on a different dimension: rather than the strength of links, we study physical distance between individuals when a link is activated. The findings presented here are based on a dataset of proximity events in a population of approximately 500 individuals. To quantify the impact of the physical proximity on the dynamic network, we use a simulated epidemic spreading processes in two distinct networks of physical proximity. We consider the network of short-range interactions defined as d [Formula: see text] 1 meter, and the long-range which includes all interactions d [Formula: see text] 10 meters. Since these two networks arise from the same set of underlying behavioral data, we are able to quantitatively measure how the specific definition of the proximity network - short-range versus long-range - impacts the resulting network structure as well as spreading dynamics in epidemic simulations. We find that the short-range network - consistent with the literature - is characterized by densely-connected neighborhoods bridged by weak ties. More surprisingly, however, we show that spreading in the long-range network is quite different, mainly shaped by spurious interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number17722
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Medicine
  • R
  • Science
  • Q


Dive into the research topics of 'How Physical Proximity Shapes Complex Social Networks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this