Evidence for a bimodal distribution in human communication

Ye Wu, Changsong ZHOU*, Jinghua Xiao, Jürgen Kurths, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

226 Citations (Scopus)


Interacting human activities underlie the patterns of many social, technological, and economic phenomena. Here we present clear empirical evidence from Short Message correspondence that observed human actions are the result of the interplay of three basic ingredients: Poisson initiation of tasks and decision making for task execution in individual humans as well as interaction among individuals. This interplay leads to new types of interevent time distribution, neither completely Poisson nor power-law, but a bimodal combination of them. We show that the events can be separated into independent bursts which are generated by frequent mutual interactions in short times following random initiations of communications in longer times by the individuals. We introduce a minimal model of two interacting priority queues incorporating the three basic ingredients which fits well the distributions using the parameters extracted from the empirical data. The model can also embrace a range of realistic social interacting systems such as e-mail and letter communications when taking the time scale of processing into account. Our findings provide insight into various human activities both at the individual and network level. Our analysis and modeling of bimodal activity in human communication from the viewpoint of the interplay between processes of different time scales is likely to shed light on bimodal phenomena in other complex systems, such as interevent times in earthquakes, rainfall, forest fire, and economic systems, etc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18803-18808
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2010

Scopus Subject Areas

  • General

User-Defined Keywords

  • Human dynamics
  • Poisson process
  • Power-law
  • Priority-queue
  • Waiting time


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