Was my lost little boy logic sound?

When I was fairly small (maybe four or five), I got separated from my parents (and aunt and uncle) in a large urban zoo. I’d have to ask my mom, but I think maybe the National Zoo in DC?

Anyway, I was old enough to know that the standard advice was “don’t move, just stay where you are and wait to be found”. But I was not content to follow this. Instead, I started running all around the zoo, as fast as I could go. But this was not in a panic, and I was not crying or anything.

I did this in part because I wanted to be proactive and do *something *(but didn’t want to approach any strangers); but also because I pictured my family members walking around, probably briskly but still in “slow grownup mode”. I figured by moving around faster than they were going, I was increasing the chance that we would run into each other more quickly.

Reflecting on this decades later, I still feel like that was true–that on average, I was going to connect up with them faster that way (especially if they split up–or am I wrong to think that makes any difference in the validity of the strategy?). But I can also see how it probably introduced a lot of variance in the outcome, such that even if my average time being lost was reduced, I increased the chance that we would keep happening to miss each other (which of course is the basic idea behind the standard advice to stay put) and leave me separated from them longer.

Has anyone ever modeled something like this with a computer, to find an optimal strategy?

Yes. If you’re moving sufficently faster than them, the average time until collision decreases.

I’m not sure about the effect if both move at roughly equal speed though. Perhaps there are studies on Pac-Man?

Also, the basic ideas behind only adults moving when searching for a lost child are:

  • the adults typically remember where they last saw you and start searching there
  • the adults have a better overview of the park’s road network and can often use a better swarming strategy than randomly moving around
  • the adults need to know when they have searched everything unsuccessfully so they can get help

You need a lot more parameters to model this, and unless you remove the factors kk fusion just mentioned, you’re going to get a worse result for most combinations.

If the parents strategy is to first cover the areas they just were, back to where they last remember seeing the child, and then branching out and the child’s strategy is to randomly run everywhere in the zoo, then it’s obviously a worse strategy than the same, but with the kid staying put.

I think there’s more than that. I think it’s also that if the kid is moving, he’ll end up somewhere that the parent’s aren’t going to look. In a park, that could be off the path. In a store, that could be in the backroom or hiding in a clothing rack (which is more likely to happen if the kid doesn’t realize he’s lost yet). Also, if the kid is moving he’s more likely to leave the property, either without realizing it or because he’s trying to get home.

As a random logic problem, perhaps running around does increase your odds. But as a real-life situation, staying put means that the adults will come back to where they last saw you and start searching outward from there. Staying put in a location that is easy to see/find will make finding a lost child much quicker and easier.

He’ll end up someplace the parents have already looked. The grownups are presumably doing a systematic search - not running around at random re-checking places they’ve already been.

Also, we keep says ‘adults’ which is different from just one adult looking for their kid. In that case, with both parent and child moving, it’s likely that they’re running around following each other. If the kid stops moving, eventually the parent will catch up to them and their less likely to get ‘more lost’.

A big factor is the topology of the search area. If there is only a single route (like one big loop path), then certainly having the child pursue the parents makes the most sense.

But if there are branches and variations to the path, then the parents’ direction (stay put) makes far more sense than the child searching.
If there are branches, then the child must now start guessing as to which path the parent(s) took.
If there is more than one parent, then this opens up parents taking different paths, but if there are more path options than parents/adults searching, this could prolong the search that much more.
Secondly, unless an agreed upon strategy is made for 1) if one finds the child, or 2) too much time has elapsed (I am posing this in the pre-cellphone era), then even if one adult finds the child, even more time could be spent trying to regroup with everyone.

The “stay put” strategy is far superior if there are multiple path options because the parents (hopefully) will remember which route they took, and it is a simple matter of backtracking.

they would look for you where you had been previously.

you would attempt to find them in areas where you hadn’t been.

you wouldn’t meet. after dark then wild dogs would eat you.

Well…don’t keep us hanging…
Did they ever find you? Or did you wind up as Wild Zoo Boy?

Kids are not 100% visible.
They are short.
And this can keep them from being seen in a crowd.

Keeping on the move can prevent this.

I disagree. If the park is a loop path and the child stays still, the longest it could take for the parents to find the child would be the length of time it takes the adults to walk the path once. If the child and parents are both moving and happen to be moving in the same direction, they could circle the park many times without crossing paths. Even if the child is running, it could take several laps for him to catch up to the parents.

But if they happen to be going the opposite direction (just as likely), they will cross paths very quickly in that event.

Ha, I almost did provide an “end to the story” but then felt silly and sheepish about it. Yeah, they found me (or, as I recall it, I found them, heh). And I felt sure it had been faster because I ran around–but who knows.

I like **Bosda’s **point too, about moving around making you more visible and thus easier to find. Someone upthread mentioned the possibility that a kid can hide (like at the mall, inside a rack of clothing) and this seems the worst situation.

I wouldn’t make that same presumption for worried parents of little children.

We just took our kids (6 and 4) to the Teipei Zoo last week and I’m really happy that they didn’t get lost.

However, the run around strategy would have been horrible at that, as there were numerous loops and twists. Had one of them taken off running and wound up in a completely different part, it would have forced us to increase the search area to a size at least five times larger. The major problem is that we wouldn’t have thought that the child was off in the further corners, and would have continued circling back to see if we hadn’t have missed them.

One of the problems with having more adults around is that individuals often lower their guard, assuming someone else is watching the kids.

Hiding is worse than moving. And standing / walking in the middle of a pack of adults (or other kids) is worse than standing or walking where you’re individually visible from some distance in any direction.

And moving is worse than standing for any of the above. By moving around you completely negate any effort by the adults to search logically. Unless they are idiots themselves they’re going to try to search logically by retracing their steps and by looking in each place only once.

Once you start moving around, the only search strategy that can work for them is to look everywhere all at once. Which is not something two parents can pull off is a space as big as a zoo. Especially if they don’t know that’s the strategy they need to use because they think you’re doing what you were told and staying put in a place with clear sight lines.

You’re lucky you weren’t eaten by a bear. :eek:
The one upside to a lost child running around madly is that usually they’ll start making noise or otherwise attracting attention. Which will eventually get other adults or the staff involved. At which point one of them can corral you then pass the news about a lost kid over the PA to the parents. Or at least hold you until the parents think to check w/ the staff.

That may have been the first time you were ever lost, or maybe even the first time your parents ever had to search for a lost kid. It wasn’t even the first time that day the zoo had to deal with a lost kid. They have a plan. Not necessarily a foolproof one, but the sooner it gets activated the sooner you & the parents are reunited.

Unless you have a predetermined meeting location, staying put is the best solution. Parents/rescuers will go to the place you were last seen. Stay with the over-turned boat, the plane wreckage, the park maintenance personnel, or contact security or a cop.

Running around in circles trying to find others who are also running around in circles can only be considered good exercise.

For the OP: I see plenty of scenarios where your little boy logic comes out equivalent to the parents instructions to stay still (in terms of time spent to find you), but these are simple scenarios like a circular path where the parents head backward as soon as they notice you’re missing. In simple scenarios, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find each other no matter what.

I see far more scenarios where running around makes it much harder to find you. The more path options there are, and the larger the zoo is, the worse your little boy logic is. Essentially, you wind up with scenarios where you and your parents randomly orbit the zoo until you coincidentally come across each other.

The fact that you’re moving faster than your parents doesn’t help if you’re on different routes.

One additional flaw: if your parents think that you’re following logical plan A, but you follow logical plan B, then they will make incorrect predictions about your behavior. Even if A and B are both valid logical options, the mismatch in expectations will destroy any advantage they might have given you. (This is an explanation I wind up having to give to my employees on a regular basis. Just because B seems like a good way to do your piece of the job, if everyone else expected you to do A, we’re all going to have problems.)

Maybe… but when my parents were giving me the “stay put” advice, they recommended standing up on something like a park bench or picnic table. As I kid, I just thought this made me stand out because who stands around on park benches? As an adult, I realize that it surely had more to do with making me taller than the average crowd. (Doubly effective, because by asking me to stand, they avoid the chances that I sit down and become even shorter.)

In a confined space, the mean duration until two randomly moving objects collide decreases with increased velocity. That is the part of the kid logic that makes sense. Example, if you could move at the speed of light, you would have collided with your parents in under a second.

As others have pointed out, the logic breaks down when you apply real world constraints:

  • The adult(s) will not be moving randomly, but rather spending more time in one sub-space than another. If your location is random across the whole space, collision probably decreases by the ratio between their search area and the whole space.
  • Human perception is less reliable than it we perceive it to be. When you are running through the sea of legs, you are less able to detect the presence of your parents, making it possible that you run right past them without either of you noticing.

Your plan completely subverts the logical search strategy the adults will have enacted, which is a process of elimination. At any given time no place they had searched could be removed from the list of possibilities because you may well have moved back into that area. Even worse, they had no way of knowing this as you had changed the agreed upon rules.

What you did was increase the chance that they might search indefinitely and never find you.