Computer Simulations for Mobs Behavior
June 15th, 2007

Thanks, Dan!

Gustave Le Bon could only observe the psychology of the masses from an individual point of view and the experimental psychology or sociology had to admit for a long time their limits when it came to researching the behavior of the masses in lab controlled environments. Doing such experiments with the knowledge and consent of the participants doesn’t offer reliable results, and, on the other hand, double blind experiments at this level have always confronted ethical problems. Reliability, feasibility and ethical dilemmas have been major obstacles so far.

Still, as Andrea Thompson informs us, Paul Torrens of Arizona State University believes that computer simulations can be a practical solution to such an experiment. He created a 3D computer model with patterns of human behavior artificially personified by what he calls ‘agents.’ The agents are shaped by different characteristics of age, sex, size and health. These characteristics function as an artificial brain that processes, just like in reality, the data from the world around and determine the movements and interactions of the agents in a crisis situation.

Paul Torrens already performed simulations for the evacuation of a crowded area with a single exit during a fire event and the spread of a disease through casual contact. But his interests goes further, as now he tries to adapt the model for a simulated process of turning agitated mobs into anarchic ones. This research also has the potential of helping cities to optimize their pedestrian traffic.

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