Mind & Body

Most People Spend Their Time in Just 25 Places

Some people are always out on the town, going to concerts, restaurant openings, you name it. They're too fun to fall into a predictable routine! Or so it seems. According to a new study, everyone has a set of places they return to regularly. Twenty-five of them, to be exact.

Our 25 Home Bases

Initially, the study started small. Using smartphone data, researchers from the UK and Denmark followed the movements of 850 college students over two years. They mapped their whereabouts throughout the day using GPS and WiFi traces and found that while the students often visited new spots, they spent the bulk of their time in roughly 25 places that they returned to repeatedly. They weren't always "Cheers"-level regulars, but they were regular enough.

This behavior seemed linked to college life when students are relatively campus-bound. But when researchers scaled up the study to 40,000 people from all over the world with all different kind of lifestyles, they found the exact same thing. People are constantly trying to toe the line between curiosity and laziness, discovery and familiarity, and visiting 25 places on a regular basis seems to ease them into a happy medium.

Plenty of scientists have studied human mobility in the past, but historically, most studies looked at movements over the course of a day or a week. This is the first study to track mobility longer-term, over multiple years. The results are all the more interesting because the number 25 held so constant. People didn't frequent more locations when they had more free time to explore, or fewer when they had less. The number of locations they went to did seem to correlate with the number of friends they had, however: More friends translated into slightly more places visited.

What About New Places?

These results by no means suggest that we don't incorporate new places into our routines. We do! All the time! We move to new neighborhoods, switch gyms, try new restaurants, and so forth. (In fact, any time the college students visited a new place, there was a roughly 20 percent chance it would become one of their 25 home bases.) But for every new favorite pizza place we discover, an old stomping ground gets abandoned. It seems humans simply don't have the mental bandwidth for much more than 25 places, just as we don't have the bandwidth for much more than 150 friends.

This could have implications for how cities are designed, how governments manage disease epidemics, and other structural puzzles — but it could also impact how people think about their personal movements. If you can only be a regular at 25 places, it's worth choosing them carefully. After all, your environment can shape your behavior, your mindset, and your physical health. Companies are constantly investing in offices conducive to creativity (like Amazon's plant-filled, rainforest-esque office) and collaboration (Google and Pixar's offices are literally designed for random run-ins with coworkers). People may start to think about the spaces they visit outside of work in the same way, seeking out layouts and amenities that help them feel like their best selves.

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For more on human predictability, check out "How Many Friends Does One Person Need?" by Robin Dunbar (the Dunbar of Dunbar's Number). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

How Many Friends Can You Have?

Written by Mae Rice August 3, 2018

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