When it comes to habitat, human beings are creatures of habit. And, it has been known for a long time that, whether their habitat is a village, a city or, for real globetrotters, the planet itself, an individual person generally visits the same places regularly.
Thanks to an analysis of data collected from 40,000 smartphone users around the world, a new property of humanity’s locomotive habits has been revealed.
It turns out that someone’s “location capacity”, the number of places which they visit regularly, remains constant over periods of months and years (What constitutes a “place” depends on what distance between two places makes them separate).
Analysing movement patterns helps illuminate this distinction and the researchers found that the average location capacity was 25. However, if a new location does make its way into the set of places an individual tends to visit, an old one drops out in response.
People cycle through them, and their geographical behaviour is limited and predictable.
Although the study does not offer any explanation for the limited location capacity it measures, statistical analysis shows that it cannot be explained solely by constraints on time (meaning some other factor is at work).
One suggestion is that people’s cognitive capacity limits the number of places they can visit routinely, just as it limits the number of other people an individual can routinely socialise with. That socialisation figure, about 150 for most people, is known as the Dunbar number (after its discoverer, Robin Dunbar).
The number of places where people spend just a few minutes a week is just as predictable as the number where they spend dozens of hours.
In practical terms, what does this mean for (fitness) businesses? For potential members and trialists, we have to work hard to make our (individual) venues one of the 25 places they want to be as quickly as possible. For existing members, we need to work hard, through high-quality sessions and incentives, to ensure they don’t find a new place to visit!
Alessandretti, L., Sapienzynski, P., Sekara, V., Lehmann, S. & Baronchelli, A. (2018) Evidence for a Conserved Quantity in Human Mobility. Nature Human Behaviour. 2, pp.485-491. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0364-x#Fig4.
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