Self-organized trail systems in groups of humans

Goldstone, R. L., & Roberts, M. E. (2006). Self-organized trail systems in groups of humans. Complexity11, 43-50.

We have developed an experimental platform for studying the trail systems that spontaneously emerge when people are motivated to take advantage of the trails left by others. In this virtual environment, the participants’ task is to reach randomly selected destinations whileminimizing travel costs. The travel cost of every patch in the environment is inversely related to the number of times the patch was visited by others. The resulting trail systems are a compromise between people going to their destinations and going where many people have previously traveled. We compare the results from our group experiments to the Active Walker model of pedestrian motion from biophysics. The ActiveWalker model accounted for deviations of trails from the beeline paths, the gradual merging of trails over time, and the influences of scale and configuration of destinations on trail systems, as well as correctly predicting the approximate spatial distribution of people’s steps. Two deviations of the model from empirically obtained results were corrected by (1) incorporating a distance metric sensitive to canonical horizontal and vertical axes, and (2) increasing the influence of a trail’s travel cost on an agent’s route as the agent approaches its destination.

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