Why People Are Terrible at Navigating Cities

People are always looking for the shortest route to reach somewhere — think coffee shops, university, work. Turns out, we may not be programmed to take the quickest route while navigating within cities.

According to a study published in Nature Computational Science this week, people are more likely to continue walking down the direction they are facing — irrespective of whether that’s the shortest way. Researchers called this following the “pointiest path,” one that’s pointing the way on our eye line. The findings put together why people choose certain paths while driving or walking, over others.

The researchers, led by M.I.T., tapped into the mobile data of 14,000 people, examining how they traveled around Boston, Cambridge, and San Francisco for a year. Out of the web of 550,000 pathways, pedestrians chose to travel the direction they were facing as much as possible.