Carried away by the crowd | The press

Whether we’re celebrating humor or beer, jazz or electronic music, there will be plenty of opportunities to find yourself in a crowd this summer. An unprecedented situation for organizers and festival-goers after two years of the pandemic, but also for researchers interested in the science behind crowd dynamics and behavior.

Posted yesterday at 7:00am

Chloe Bourquin

Chloe Bourquin
special cooperation

“When you organize a festival, you not only have to intervene when there are problems, but much more proactively,” explains Pascal Viot, director of the Swiss Institute for Urban and Event Security (iSSUE). The researcher is also the coordinator of the Paléo festival in Nyon, Switzerland, an event that welcomes almost 300,000 spectators every year.

Mass Dynamics and Movement

In this anticipation, it is above all necessary to organize the space in which the public develops. “We can predict the movements of the crowd and the density that will cause discomfort or even a risk of accidents,” says Pascal Viot. To limit this risk, services, locations and points of interest must be placed appropriately. »

How can you predict these movements? “There are two approaches in physics,” says Denis Bartolo, a professor at the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France. We can try to calculate the interactions between each individual: here we can have a group of friends, there a group of people who don’t know each other… Then we repeat until we get the movements of several thousand people. Or, much more simply, we can describe the crowd very globally without considering individual interactions.


PHOTO SUPPLIED BY DENIS BARTOLO

Denis Bartolo, a professor at the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon, is co-author of a study on the behavior of Chicago marathon runners, comparing their dynamics to that of liquids.

“In physics, we don’t look at the precise composition of a liquid, the molecules that make it up, and their interactions. We know that all liquids (wine, water, honey, etc.) obey the same laws, so we content ourselves with a few parameters to predict their dynamics,” explains the researcher.


PHOTO SUPPLIED BY DENIS BARTOLO

Denis Bartolo, professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon

It’s the same for the crowd: without knowing the behavior between individuals, we can predict the dynamics of the crowd from just a few measurements.

Denis Bartolo, professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon

For example, crowd density, i.e. the number of people per square meter, is an important parameter to consider. As long as the density stays below a certain threshold, it is relatively easy to predict mass movements. “Of a certain density or a certain panic, however, there will be a scramble. The rules get more complicated there,” he emphasizes.

A psychological dimension that cannot be neglected

But when it comes to risk management and anticipation, physics isn’t everything: you also have to consider crowd psychology.

“You have to put yourself in the audience’s shoes to better understand what they expect and adapt the services accordingly,” explains Pascal Viot.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY PASCAL VIOT

Pascal Viot, Director of the Swiss Institute for Urban and Event Security (iSSUE)

A very fanatical audience will not behave like an audience that comes quietly to enjoy an evening at a festival.

Pascal Viot, Director of the Swiss Institute for Urban and Event Security (iSSUE)

Research in crowd psychology allows us to define certain counter-intuitive phenomena. “We often tend to assume that a crowd is not intelligent, that people who come together behave more selfishly and instinctively; The researcher adds that there will be a phenomenon of imitation or an easier switch to violence. But more recent research has shown that, for example, in catastrophe situations, solidarity logics are used, that people help each other precisely because they are going from being indifferent to one another in common destiny. These are psychological levers that are interesting to cover since they guide our reception and security missions. »


PHOTO FRANÇOIS ROY, LA PRESSE ARCHIVE

A crowd of supporters — say, those celebrating the victory of their favorite team — will behave differently than an audience attending a show at a festival, researcher Pascal Viot points out.

The return of the masses, between worry and carelessness

This psychological dimension is particularly important to consider in the context of the return to “normality” after two years of the pandemic. “The message we’ve been hearing for years is that socializing with other people is dangerous. And almost overnight you can find yourself in crowds like before the pandemic,” explains Kim Lavoie, professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Quebec’s Department of Psychology in Montreal.


PHOTO SUPPLIED BY KIM LAVOIE

Kim Lavoie, Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Psychology at the University of Quebec in Montreal

People have had very little time to adapt to this lifting of restrictions, and at the same time they know the virus is still circulating, which can create fear.

Kim Lavoie, Professor of Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Psychology at the University of Quebec in Montreal

Could this fear be obscuring the festival-goers’ experience? According to Pascal Viot, it is possible. “On the other hand, there is also the risk of a ‘pressure cooker effect’, where after two years of waiting you know no limits,” he adds.

With festivals returning this summer, many questions remain unanswered. “How will the crowd behave? Will there be more exuberance or, on the contrary, more restraint? Will we have overdensity phenomena or will people avoid finding themselves in this situation? These are things that will be interesting to watch,” concludes the researcher.

Density of people and examples: Number of people per square meter

0/m²: mostly on the street

1/m²: in a busy shopping street

2/m²: in the elevator when 3 or 4 people are present at the same time

3/m²: in local public transport during rush hour

4/m²: at a concert, a few tens of meters from the stage

5/m² (limit of acceptable): on public transport, during a traffic incident

6/m²: for a very large concert, directly in front of the stage

Source: Fouloscopy YouTube channel by researcher Mehdi Moussaïd

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