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Green Templeton College | Oxford

Big Bang TheoryAs a researcher, you know that your work has truly had an impact when it is mentioned on one of the most popular sitcoms on television.

Such is the case for Dr Felix Reed-Tsochas and Dr Eduardo López, two GTC fellows based at the Saïd Business School, whose research into social networks and relationships is referred to in an upcoming episode of The Big Bang Theory, the American sitcom about four scientists and friends who work at Caltech, the California Institute of Technology.

Much of the show focuses on science, particularly physics, and the characters frequently banter about scientific theories or news - notably around the start of the show - and make science-related jokes.

At the start of the latest episode, during a discussion about the impact of relationships on their friendship, Sheldon alludes to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) at the beginning of 2014.

The study (which analysed mobile phone call records that were used to track changes in the communication networks of 24 students in the UK over 18 months as they made the transition from school to university or work) found that although mobile technologies and social networking sites have made it easier to stay in touch with large numbers of acquaintances, people put most of their efforts into communicating with small numbers of close friends or relatives.

To do so, they often operate unconscious 'one-in, one-out' policies so that communication patterns remain the same even when friendships change. The results suggest that our capacity for maintaining a large number of emotionally close relationships is finite.

Felix says: "The way the programme frames the research is very accurate - and of course, there is a very nice put-down in the exchange!"

"As scientists we always wonder about impact factor of our research. Can we count making people laugh as part of that?" comments Eduardo.

"The Big Bang Theory has two themes running in parallel - science and relationships - and our research very much parallels that," he concludes.

The paper entitled 'The persistence of social signatures in human communication' was conducted by an international team that included Felix Reed-Tsochas, Eduardo López and Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford, Dr Sam Roberts from the University of Chester, Dr Elizabeth Leicht (Facebook and formerly at the Saïd Business School) and Dr Jari Saramäki from Aalto University, Finland. The paper is available online here

The Big Bang Theory episode will be broadcast on UK television at 8.30pm on Thursday 13 November on E4.