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Abstract: In our modern society, people are daily confronted with an increasing amountof information of any kind. As a consequence, the attention capacities andprocessing abilities of individuals often saturate. People, therefore, have toselect which elements of their environment they are focusing on, and which areignored. Moreover, recent work shows that individuals are naturally attractedby what other people are interested in. This imitative behaviour gives rise tovarious herding phenomena, such as the spread of ideas or the outbreak ofcommercial trends, turning the understanding of collective attention animportant issue of our society. In this article, we propose an individual-basedmodel of collective attention. In a situation where a group of people is facinga steady flow of novel information, the model naturally reproduces thelog-normal distribution of the attention each news item receives, in agreementwith empirical observations. Furthermore, the model predicts that thepopularity of a news item strongly depends on the number of concurrent newsappearing at approximately the same moment. We confirmed this prediction bymeans of empirical data extracted from the website This result can beinterpreted from the point of view of competition between the news for thelimited attention capacity of individuals. The proposed model, therefore,provides new elements to better understand the dynamics of collective attentionin an information-rich world.

Author: Mehdi Moussaid, Dirk Helbing, Guy Theraulaz


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