Evidence for a Conserved Quantity in Human Mobility

Laura Alessandretti, Piotr Sapiezynski, Vedran Sekara, Sune Lehmann*, Andrea Baronchelli

*Corresponding author for this work

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Recent seminal works on human mobility have shown that individuals constantly exploit a small set of repeatedly visited locations. A concurrent literature has emphasized the explorative nature of human behavior, showing that the number of visited places grows steadily over time. How to reconcile these seemingly contradicting facts remains an open question. Here, we analyze high-resolution multi-year traces of $\sim$40,000 individuals from 4 datasets and show that this tension vanishes when the long-term evolution of mobility patterns is considered. We reveal that mobility patterns evolve significantly yet smoothly, and that the number of familiar locations an individual visits at any point is a conserved quantity with a typical size of $\sim$25 locations. We use this finding to improve state-of-the-art modeling of human mobility. Furthermore, shifting the attention from aggregated quantities to individual behavior, we show that the size of an individual's set of preferred locations correlates with the number of her social interactions. This result suggests a connection between the conserved quantity we identify, which as we show can not be understood purely on the basis of time constraints, and the `Dunbar number' describing a cognitive upper limit to an individual's number of social relations. We anticipate that our work will spark further research linking the study of Human Mobility and the Cognitive and Behavioral Sciences.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Pages (from-to)485–491
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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