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The secret science that rules crowds


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Sometimes, being part of a large crowd can be worse than uncomfortable: it can turn lethal. Deadly crowd crushes that occurred in 2017 include incidents in an Angolan football stadium, an Italian piazza and a Moroccan food aid centre.


These events are tragic and mostly avoidable. Scientists in the UK around the world are figuring out new ways to minimise the chance of them happening again.


“Most of human behaviour is very predictable, because we are very rational beings,” says Shrikant Sharma, Smart Space Group Director of UK engineering firm BuroHappold. This predictability allows data analysts to envision how people will move through space – and how that can be affected by changes to their environment.


Crowd psychology has been around since the 19th Century. But it’s only in the last few decades that there’s been a major shift to seeing crowds as more than mindless masses. “The crowd is as psychologically specific as the individual,” says the University of Sussex’s John Drury, an expert on the social psychology of crowd management.


In the 1980s, psychological findings were applied to riots, in the 2000s to mass emergencies, and in the 2010s to music festivals and large events. Now, crowd psychology is being used in more specialised emergencies – such as CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear) attacks.





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