By analyzing the flocking behavior of heavy metal concert goers in mosh pits, Cornell University researchers discovered that their collective actions closely approximate the way particles work in a two-dimensional gas.
While it might seem like frivolous work, this study has serious implications for understanding how people move in panic situations, like when fleeing from an emergency or when embroiled in a riot. By analyzing and simulating seemingly chaotic human behaviors — like flocking situations in this case — the researchers built a simplified model that could help designers create buildings and other structures to mitigate these risks.
And indeed, what could be better than studying mosh pits and circle pits? Long a staple of heavy metal and punk shows, they exemplify chaotic, swarming human behavior. In mosh pits, concert attendees move randomly, colliding with one another in an undirected fashion. A circle pit is where attendees form a swirling vortex.
Lead researcher Matthew Bierbaum analyzed and modeled these motions by watching mosh pits and circle pits featured in YouTube videos.
“Qualitatively, this phenomenon resembles the kinetics of gaseous particles, even though moshers are self-propelled agents that experience dissipative collisions,” writes Bierbaum in the study. His models show that moshers collide with each other randomly and at a distribution of speeds that resembles particles in a two-dimensional gas.