Human mobility is differentiated by time scales. While the mechanism for long time scales has been studied, the underlying mechanism on the daily scale is still unrevealed. Here, we uncover the mechanism responsible for the daily mobility patterns by analysing the temporal and spatial trajectories of thousands of persons as individual networks. Using the concept of motifs from network theory, we find only 17 unique networks are present in daily mobility and they follow simple rules. These networks, called here motifs, are sufficient to capture up to 90 per cent of the population in surveys and mobile phone datasets for different countries. Each individual exhibits a characteristic motif, which seems to be stable over several months. Consequently, daily human mobility can be reproduced by an analytically tractable framework for Markov chains by modelling periods of high-frequency trips followed by periods of lower activity as the key ingredient.
- Received March 18, 2013.
- Accepted April 15, 2013.
- © 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.