New Scientist reports (via Dangerous Minds) on the work of Jesse Silverberg, a grad student asking, along with two of his professors, the question “what makes a crowd of people with independent decision-making powers behave like a random gas?” Fascinating stuff:

To investigate, the team simulated a mosh pit with a few basic rules: the virtual moshers bounce off each other when they collide (instead of sticking or sliding through each other); they can move independently; and they can flock, or follow each other, to varying degrees. Finally, the team added a certain amount of statistical noise to the simulated moshers’ movements – “to mimic the effects of the inebriants that the participants typically use”, says co-author Matthew Bierbaum.

The researchers believe their work could aid in disaster planning. It probably won’t help you get a girlfriend, though.

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