Lost in transportation: Information measures and cognitive limits in multilayer navigation

Science Advances  19 Feb 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 2, e1500445
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500445

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Cities and their transportation systems become increasingly complex and multimodal as they grow, and it is natural to wonder whether it is possible to quantitatively characterize our difficulty navigating in them and whether such navigation exceeds our cognitive limits. A transition between different search strategies for navigating in metropolitan maps has been observed for large, complex metropolitan networks. This evidence suggests the existence of a limit associated with cognitive overload and caused by a large amount of information that needs to be processed. In this light, we analyzed the world’s 15 largest metropolitan networks and estimated the information limit for determining a trip in a transportation system to be on the order of 8 bits. Similar to the “Dunbar number,” which represents a limit to the size of an individual’s friendship circle, our cognitive limit suggests that maps should not consist of more than 250 connection points to be easily readable. We also show that including connections with other transportation modes dramatically increases the information needed to navigate in multilayer transportation networks. In large cities such as New York, Paris, and Tokyo, more than 80% of the trips are above the 8-bit limit. Multimodal transportation systems in large cities have thus already exceeded human cognitive limits and, consequently, the traditional view of navigation in cities has to be revised substantially.

  • networks
  • mutlilayer networks
  • transportation
  • urban navigation

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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