Emerging Research on Crowd Behavior

in Pop Culture
October 12th, 2011

City dwellers are all too familiar with crowds. In Boston, students regularly navigate through them on their way to class, and more broadly, natives and visitors all have to navigate through sports crowds. These can be particularly dense and sometimes rowdy crowds (have you ever been near Fenway Park after a Red Sox-Yankees game?!).

With crowds occasionally come large-scale riots. A recent notable riot occurred in Vancouver after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup over the Canucks. One of the first signs of unrest was bottles being thrown at TV screens by spectators outside the stadium. It was followed with burning of Bruins apparel and flags. Eventually, a car and truck were overturned and set on fire, and windows of local businesses were smashed. Chaos followed, 100 people were arrested, and there were numerous injuries.

Researchers at Arizona State University are currently studying human behavior in crowds. They use computer modeling to study the outbreak and containment of city riots. One such example can be found here. This video shows the beginnings of a riot outbreak through an immersive model – the progression of the riot and overall crowd behavior is observed from a participant’s point of view. Though various viewpoints are shown in the video, there is initially a focal point of a key initiator, and users can choose their viewpoint when modeling in the program.

This type of modeling can also produce various types of “predictor” maps to give further information on the behavior of the crowd and the action authorities should take in order to prevent the crowd from spiraling out of control. The first of such is a play on a topographic map.

This map gives information about the position and “influence circles” of various members of the crowd – police (gray), rioters (red), nonrioters (blue), and vulnerable onlookers (Torrens).

The research takes this map one step further by adding a time component.

Timescale map of riot control

This map shows, over time, the movement of police, those who are arrested, those who continue to riot, and the bystanders. The gray plane represents the riot scene, while time is represented by lines and curves rising above the plane.

Research on riots provides valuable insight into the origin and sustainability of riots, as well as predictions as to how best focus police efforts to settle rowdy crowds. Coupled with research simply concerned with crowd behavior, we can better plan the arrangement of city areas expecting large crowds.

Video Timeline of Vancouver Riot Development – Canadian Television Network

Subtle Movements in Crowds Lead to Large Scale Phenomena – research.gov

Simulation of Mob Mentality – Geosimulation

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