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Mosh Pit Physics Sheds Light On Strategies For Crowd Control

posted 13 May 2013, 11:55 by Mpelembe   [ updated 13 May 2013, 11:55 ]

Mosh-pits at heavy metal concerts may seem chaotic but, according to researchers at Cornell University, they are governed by the same laws of physics that govern the behaviour of gas particles. The researchers say law enforcement officials could apply the lessons of the mosh-pit in creating new strategies for crowd control.Sharon Reich has more.

ITHACA, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (REUTERS/YOUTUBE/CORNELL UNIVERSITY COHEN GROUP) -  Mosh pits are better organized than you might think.

Scientists at Cornell University say that while large groups of flailing heavy metal fans may look chaotic, they are governed by the same laws of physics that determine the movement of gas particles.

In a research paper using Youtube moshpit videos as a reference , Jesse Silverberg says that those laws of physics could be applied by security forces to prevent panic and violence in large crowds.


"The collective motion of people depend on social circumstances. at one end you have people walking down street, they form lanes so they don't bump into each other. At the other end at riots and protests you ahve people who get jammed, crushed or there's a stampede. So what we learn from the physics of moshpits, is that by studying how people behave in extreme social situations found at heavy metal concerts we get a lens into how people will behave in other similiarly extreme situations like riots and protests and situations of escape panic."

Silverberg broke the mosh pit down by studying the videos and then creating computerized mosh pit simulations based on a few rules - namely that people collide and that they want to move but do so in a random manner.

They then added flocking terms, which illustrate that people want to move in the same direction as those around them.


"We focused on two distincly different types of collective behavior. One of them, which is called a mosh pit, is this very random mess of people bouncing around and jumping into and bouncing off each other its' just this total mess. On the other hand there is a very ordered type of collective motion where people run around in a circle. There will be this giant vortex of humans. And the really cool thing we found in our simulation is that we were able to reproduce both behaviors just by changing a single number."

That discovery came as a surprise, and turned what began as a fun project into something Silverberg's adviser Itai Cohen says, has potential application in the real world.


"If we could understand how to move between the mosh pit, which is this random motion to the vortex state, which is this herding motion where you can get a stampede and people getting hurt, if you could control that transition then that would have serious implications for crowd control. Could you put a post somewhere, an architectural design piece, that would essentially prevent the crowd from nucleating a stampede in some place. Could you in the way that salt preventscrystallization of water in some way inhibit the formation of stampedes."

The Cornell team say their research is still in its infancy but hope, with more mosh-pit experience under their belts, to shed even more light on the science of headbanging.