Creatures of habit

Cool study showing that my predilection for spending time in the same set of venues over and over again may not be as far removed from the mainstream of human experience as some critics of my lifestyle would have it:

At any given time, people regularly return to a maximum of 25 places.

This is the finding of a scientific study that reveals entirely new aspects of human behaviour.

The study, titled ‘Evidence for a conserved quantity in human mobility’ is published in Nature Human Behaviour is based on analyses of 40,000 people’s mobile traces collected in four different datasets. […]

“We first analysed the traces of about 1000 university students. The dataset showed that the students returned to a limited number of places, even though the places changed over time. I expected to see a difference in the behaviour of students and a wide section of the population. But that was not the case. The result was the same when we scaled up the project to 40,000 people of different habits and gender from all over the world. It was not expected in advance. It came as a surprise,” says Dr Alessandretti.

As people start frequenting a new place, one of their existing haunts gets dropped from the list.

“People are constantly balancing their curiosity and laziness. We want to explore new places but also want to exploit old ones that we like. Think of a restaurant or a gym. In doing so we adopt and abandon places all the time. We found that this dynamics yields an unexpected result: We visit a constant, fixed number of places—and it’s not due to lack of time. We found evidence that this may be connected to other limits to our life, such as the number of active social interactions we can maintain in our life, but more research is in order to clarify this point,” says Dr Baronchelli.

Here’s how they define a “place”: “For the purposes of these studies, a familiar location is any you return to at least twice in a given week for 10 minutes or more at a time.” By this definition, although I don’t have an exact count, my number is significantly less than 25 and probably somewhere between 15 and 20.

“People are constantly balancing their curiosity and laziness”… Actually, if you had to boil all of human life down to eight words, that would be a pretty good summary.

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