Human behavior is 93 percent predictable, research shows

February 23, 2010, Northeastern University

Human behavior is 93 percent predictable, research shows
Distinguished Professor of Physics Albert-László Barabási's findings are published in the current issue of Science magazine Photo by Craig Bailey
( -- Human behavior is 93 percent predictable, a group of leading Northeastern University network scientists recently found. Distinguished Professor of Physics Albert-László Barabási and his team studied the mobility patterns of anonymous cell-phone users and concluded that, despite the common perception that our actions are random and unpredictable, human mobility follows surprisingly regular patterns. The team’s research is published in the current issue of Science magazine.

“Spontaneous individuals are largely absent from the population. Despite the significant differences in travel patterns, we found that most people are equally predictable,” said Barabási, who is also director of Northeastern’s world-leading Center for Research. “The predictability represents the probability we can foresee an individual's future whereabouts in the next hour based on his or her previous trajectory.”

Barabási and his team also discovered that regardless of the different distances people travel, the 93 percent predictability remains true both for those who travel far distances on a regular basis and for those who typically stay close to home.

“We tend to assume that it’s much easier to predict the movement of those who travel very little over those who regularly cover thousands of miles,” said Chaoming Song, PhD of the Center for Complex Network Research and lead author of the paper “Yet, we have found that despite our heterogeneity, we are all almost equally predictable.”

The researchers were also surprised to find that the regularity and predictability of individual movement did not differ significantly across demographic categories, including age, gender, language groups, population density, and urban versus rural locations.

In earlier research on human , published in a 2008 issue of Nature magazine, Barabási and his team studied the real-time trajectory of 100,000 anonymous cell-phone users (randomly selected from more than 6 million users) and found that, despite the diversity of their travel history, humans follow simple reproducible patterns.

“While most individuals travel only short distances and a few regularly move over hundreds of miles, they all follow a simple pattern regardless of time and distance, and they have a strong tendency to return to locations they visited before,” explained Barabási.

In this current project, the network scientists studied three months of anonymous cell-phone data capturing the mobility patterns of 50,000 users chosen randomly from a pool of 10 million.

“We now know that when it comes to processes driven by human mobility—such as epidemic modeling, urban planning, and traffic engineering—it is scientifically possible to predict people’s movement and positively impact how societies address public health and urban development,” added Song.

Additional coauthors on the paper, titled “Limits of Predictability in ,” are Zehui Qu and Nicholas Blumm, both doctoral candidates in the Center for Complex Network Research.

Explore further: Once smartphones become truly common, so will the viruses that attack them

More information: Limits of Predictability in Human Mobility, Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1177170

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2 / 5 (7) Feb 23, 2010
In my opinion civilization is behaving like pure entropy driven random gas at sufficiently global scale, because all personal motivations and IQ of people involved compensate mutually like the forces between particles inside of sufficiently dense gas ("what is good for you isn't good for me and vice-versa"). Which means, the evolution of human society cannot be controlled well, whenever energy sources would go down or some other disaster occurs.

1.3 / 5 (8) Feb 23, 2010
On August 19, 1934 about 95 percent of registered voters in Germany went to the poles and gave Hitler 38 million votes of approval (90 percent of the vote). What the majority believes in is completely irrelevant here - all these people couldn't predict even their close future, to influence it the less.

The similar situation occurs right now in public stance concerning LHC research, global warming or future fossil fuel strategy. There is too many contradicting opinions and personal interests involved in such a way, civilization as a whole cannot face the risk of nuclear war or other geopolitical crisis at all. Therefore the fact, we can predict some aspects of human behavior won't help us at all.
5 / 5 (4) Feb 24, 2010
Not really surprising.
It is only location prediction and most people have a job that makes it very easy to 'predict' where you are.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2010
The title "Human behavior is 93 percent predictable, research shows" is grossly misleading.
Behavior is more complex than mobility.

Eh, not really. You go where your behavior tells you to go. Your mobility is a direct result of your behavior. Most people would laugh at how low the 93 percent statement is.
4.7 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2010
With very rare exceptions, when I travel, I am going to a specific destination via a limited number (often one) of reasonable paths. Daily trips to work, weekly trips to stores, monthly trips to club meetings. If I am moving randomly, I'm lost.
not rated yet Feb 24, 2010
Yes, but it is only a very small part of my behavior.
While it would be very easy to predict my mobility, nobody could for instance predict which book I'll continue to read first the next day. I don't know it myself.
But with enough information about you one can determine the probability and make accurate estimates.
not rated yet Feb 24, 2010
The article seems to glaze over what they mean by "predictable". Really, if you were watching my movements, and noticed that I go to work 5 days a week, there's a pretty good chance that if you see me get into my car at 7:30 Tuesday morning, you know where I'm headed. You'd be a bit more hard-pressed to figure out what I'm going to do for a Saturday night out though.
not rated yet Feb 25, 2010
On this base we could "predict" the result of any lottery.

By knowing your reading habits and patterns I can seperate the noise of chaos from your past reference decisions. In the lottery all numbers have equal probability. If you were unaware that you were being observed and came across two books "Dreams of my Father" and "The Cheney Story: by Dick, About Dick, Full of Dick" I'm sure I could determine which you would read first based on something as simple as your political preference or your voting behavior.

Again, you could always buck the system, which is why it's probability. however on a 75% 25% spread I'm sure I can pick a winner.

Add more books and you simply reduce the spread, but you do not skew the probability.

The entire idea of Marketing is based on this concept, not too many people go hungry in that field. If it's bunk, it's well paying bunk.
not rated yet Feb 25, 2010
This angered me, so much so, I had to sign up. This is not, by anyway, "science" and barely qualifies as "research". For one cell phone signals locate you by triangulation, and not by precision. Another words, you can tell switching, and infer (not deduce) speed - if anything at all!

I thought a website called would understand Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Quantum mechanics really doesn't lend itself nicely to this type of junk-science. It's rather embarrassing to even have this junk published on your site.

-The Faustian Man
not rated yet Feb 26, 2010
You can't know which books I'll come across the next day. Maybe I'll come across a book that reminds me of the first movie I ever saw? A Soviet SF movie, more than 50 years ago?

Again, with enough information and no foreknowledge every decision you make can be predicted.
not rated yet Feb 26, 2010
with enough information and no foreknowledge every decision you make can be predicted.
As this statement is not falsifiable (because you always can resort to the excuse "not enough information") it is not a scientific statement.

It was never meant to be a scientific statement.
not rated yet Mar 05, 2010
i predict that frajo will reply at least one more time to this thread, elaborating on how unpredictable he himself is. in fact, i would also predict that he is a male, and by posting this, it is increasing the likely-hood that frajo will inversely, not post on this thread. there is a slight chance that frajo wears a tinfoil hat. lastly, im sure anyone that read this thread knew it would (predictably) boil down to someone saying something like this.

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