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Collective phenomena in crowds — Where pedestrian dynamics need social psychology

Experiments at entrances to concert reveal significant influence of the spatial layout of barriers on the density in the crowd. Differentiating between collective phenomena, behavior and action the role of social norms is analysed.



A large crowd of people at the entrance of concert can result in a dangerous situation if people compete in being the first. In such cases, it might help to put up artificial barriers to control entering process.

The article present experimental results analysing how the spatial layout influence the density in front of the entrance and the occurrence of pushing. Methods from the natural and social sciences are applied. Firstly, physical measurements show the influence of the spatial structure on the dynamics of the entrance procedure. Density, waiting time and speed of progress show large variations. Secondly, a questionnaire study (n = 60) reveals how people perceive and evaluate these entrance situations. Markedly different expectations, social norms and strategies are associated with the two spatial structures. The results from the questionnaire study do not always conform to objective physical measures, indicating the limitations of models which are based on objective physical measures alone and which neglect subjective perspectives. 

As has been demonstrated in experiments conducted by researchers from Jülich, the observed effect cannot be explained in purely physical terms; rather, it can only be understood if the psychological aspects are likewise taken into consideration. The results of the interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers at Forschungszentrum Jülich and Ruhr-Universität Bochum have been published in the journal Plos One.

Figure1Left: Entry without guiding barriers (semicircle setup). Test subjects are positioned in a semicircle in front of two entrances 0.5 m in width. Right: Entry with guiding barriers (corridor setup). From top to bottom t = 0 and 6 s after the command to start entering. The densities in front of the barriers at t = 0 are comparable. With guiding barriers, the density in front of the entrances is significantly smaller at t = 6 s.

Figure2Time series for density in front of the entrances. After the start command, the constriction effect leads to an increase of density in front of the entrances. For the semicircle setup the density fluctuates around 8 m-2 after the constriction, while for the corridor setup it is around 5 m-2.

Figure3Relation between time and distance to entrance for the semicircle setup (left) and corridor setup (right). Light blue dots correspond to the initial position while black lines show the cumulative data for the relation during entering.

Figure4Perceived justness: mean, standard deviation (left). Corridor setup is perceived as significantly juster than the semicircle setup. After watching the video, the difference in perception is confirmed and increases. Level of comfort: mean, standard deviation (right). Participants feel more comfortable in the corridor setup than in the semicircle setup. Again, the difference is confirmed after watching the videos and increases.

Article Journal Article
Collective phenomena in crowds—Where pedestrian dynamics need social psychology
PLoS one 12(6), e0177328 - () [10.1371/journal.pone.0177328] OpenAccess  Download fulltext Files  Download fulltextFulltext by OpenAccess repository BibTeX | EndNote: XML, Text | RIS