How cognitive heuristics can explain social interactions in spatial movement

Michael J. Seitz, Nikolai Bode, Gerta Koester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
418 Downloads (Pure)


The movement of pedestrian crowds is a paradigmatic example for collective motion. The precise nature of individual-level behaviours underlying crowd movements has been subject to a lively debate. Here, we propose that pedestrians follow simple heuristics rooted in cognitive psychology, such as ‘stop if another step would lead to a collision’ or ‘follow the person in front’. In other words, our paradigm explicitly models individual-level behaviour as a series of discrete decisions. We show that our cognitive heuristics produce realistic emergent crowd phenomena, such as lane formation and queuing behaviour. Based on our results, we suggest that pedestrians follow different cognitive heuristics that are selected depending on the context. This differs from the widely-used approach of capturing changes in behaviour via model parameters and leads to testable hypotheses on changes in crowd behaviour for different motivation levels. For example, we expect that rushed individuals more often evade 26 to the side and thus display distinct emergent queue formations in front of a bottleneck. Our heuristics can be ranked according to the cognitive effort that is required to follow them. Therefore, our model establishes a direct link between behavioural responses and cognitive effort and thus facilitates a novel perspective on collective behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160439
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number121
Early online date3 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2016


  • Cognitive heuristics
  • social interactions
  • collective behaviour
  • spatial movement
  • pedestrian dynamics
  • decision making

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