Mosh pits can shed light on panic situations

Feb 27, 2013 by Anne Ju
Mosh pits can shed light on panic situations
Mosh pits at heavy metal concerts can shed light on human collective motion. Credit: Ulrike Biets

(—When physics graduate student Jesse Silverberg took his girlfriend to a heavy metal concert, he didn't dive into the mosh pit as usual. He hung back and observed that humans act like particles, dancing into "collective motion"—from which models could provide insight into panicked crowds.

Silverberg quantified the motions of moshers with fellow student and metal fan Matt Bierbaum for a project in the advanced class of James Sethna, Cornell professor of physics. They discovered that the moshers' behavior, like flocks of birds or gas particles, can be predicted with simplified .

"If you want to understand how people behave in extreme conditions, this provides a good lens to start looking at human ," Silverberg said.

For their experiments, the researchers downloaded YouTube videos of moshers moshing and used automated tracking techniques employed in associate professor of physics Itai Cohen's research group to quantify the crowd's motion. Their scientific criteria for choosing YouTube videos: "The least shaky."

To understand what they were seeing, Bierbaum created a computer simulation based on the notion of "flocking," which is what happens when particles—or in this case, humans—tend to follow each other. He also made an interactive version of the simulation, in which different parameters like "noise" and "flocking" can be tuned.

Their simulations consisted of two types of moshers, which they dubbed Mobile Active Simulated Humanoids, or MASHers. Active MASHers move around with a tendency to follow their neighbors, so they tend to flock. Passive MASHers remain more stationary—mimicking concertgoers who prefer not to risk injury.

Mixing these populations together, the researchers found that when random collisions dominated the tendency to flock, the result was a run-of-the-mill mosh pit. But when flocking dominated random collisions between moshers, a more ordered, vortex-like state emerged. This reminded the researchers of "circle pits"—a subset of mosh pits in which participants turn into a human collective whirlpool.

The attempt to quantify moshers in a mosh pit isn't just for fun—they're looking to get published. Ever since their paper was uploaded to the arXiv, they've received lots of attention for their unusual experiments. Furthermore, the students hope their work can provide insight into how a crowd of humans might collectively move in an emergency situation—running from a burning building or an earthquake, for example.

Experiments of human motion in crowds have previously been attempted, but the situations are typically contrived and certainly not panicked, Silverberg said. Heavy metal concerts are more like these panic or riot situations in terms of the of the participants.

"We see the analogy with the experiments, and we have a sense that we are on the right track for how people behave in these situations," Bierbaum said.

Explore further: Decision cascades in social networks

Related Stories

The dance of the cells: A minuet or a mosh?

May 22, 2011

The physical forces that guide how cells migrate—how they manage to get from place to place in a coordinated fashion inside the living body— are poorly understood. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health ...

Recommended for you

All together now – three evolutionary perks of singing

Dec 24, 2014

We're enjoying the one time of year when protests of "I can't sing!" are laid aside and we sing carols with others. For some this is a once-a-year special event; the rest of the year is left to the professionals ...

Fish eye sheds light on color vision

Dec 23, 2014

A fish eye from a primitive time when Earth was but one single continent, has yielded evidence of color vision dating back at least 300 million years, researchers said Tuesday.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2013
Crowd Disease Spread Grasping.....
For Ex., Each one entering a crowded mall, exhibition etc should be sprayed with 1 or 2 uniquely identifiable particles and cameras should monitor movements & interactions of those particles until persons exit the area for good. Combined with their IDs ...scientific authorities that can responsibly access them...along with their cell phone nos (containing their physician Info) should be able to come up with some NEW Futuristic Results.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.