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What Mosh Pits Can Teach Us About Disaster Planning

Moshers might have more to offer society than you once thought. It turns out that mosh pits behave a lot like a container of gas, with each individual behaving like an atom

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Moshers might have more to offer society than you once thought. It turns out that mosh pits behave a lot like a container of gas, with each individual acting as an atom. Researchers at Cornell University built a model of these metal heads and realized that they could use it not just to understand the behavior of fans but also, perhaps, the behavior of individuals in emergencies.

The whole thing started when a graduate student, Jesse Silverberg, took his girlfriend to a metal concert. He told New Scientist:

“I didn’t want to put her in harm’s way, so we stood off to the side,” he says. “I’m usually in the mosh pit, but for the first time I was off to the side and watching. I was amazed at what I saw.”

From the sidelines, he realized that the mosh pit looked a lot like a mass of atoms. Individuals bash into one another, bounce off and fly around in a seemingly random pattern. Then they took videos of mosh pits off YouTube and built a model of the behavior. Here it is:

New Scientist explains what we’re seeing here:

They found that by tweaking their model parameters – decreasing noise or increasing the tendency to flock, for instance – they could make the pit shift between the random-gas-like moshing and a circular vortex called a circle pit, which is exactly what they saw in the YouTube videos of real mosh pits.

Which is interesting for connoisseurs of mosh pits, but perhaps more useful in situations where crowds need help, like earthquakes or fires. Scientists can’t really study how people behave in those situations without raising ethical questions. But perhaps, Stromberg told New Scientist, you could use this model to see how people behave and use that information to better design emergency exits or aid.

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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