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Science: You Get 150 Friends and 25 Places (So Choose Well)

Jessica Stillman
3 min readMay 23

Germans have the concept of the stammtisch. Greeks frequent their stegi. Brits are loyal to their local. Around the world, it seems, people have a tendency to form strong attachments to a neighborhood hang-out. Just how much are we creatures of habit when it comes to where we spend our time? A recent study offers a surprising answer.

You’re not as adventurous as you think.

We all like to think of ourselves as adventurers out to sample all the amazing sights, sounds, and places the world has to offer. We travel. We try new restaurants. We keep on top of the hottest new bars in town. All this activity creates the impression that we go to lots of different places, but when a team of European researchers used cell phone data to trace the life paths of 40,000 people of all ages, they discovered a very different picture.

At first, the team followed 1,000 students and found that, actually, they each went to only 25 separate locations. The students might add a new place to their repertoire, but when they did an old place would fall out of favor. Surely, this must just be just campus-bound kids, the researchers thought, so they expanded their study to tens of thousands from all walks of life around the globe. The results were the same, surprising the researchers.

The data clearly showed that while we might join a new gym, discover a new favorite bar, or start frequenting a different park for lunch, we also then stop going somewhere else. In short, there appears to a be a hard limit to how many places we keep in the rotation at any given time.

“People are constantly balancing their curiosity and laziness. We want to explore new places but also want to exploit old ones that we like,” commented Andrea Baronchelli, a researcher in the Department of Mathematics at City, University of London and study co-author. “We found that this dynamic yields an unexpected result: We visit a constant, fixed number of places — and it’s not due to lack of time.”

You become who you know… and where you go.

This isn’t the first time that scientists have uncovered a built-in limit to the number of connections in our lives. Research has established…

Jessica Stillman

Top columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast.