The findings could have a major significance for directing the flow of large crowds especially in disaster cases, when it’s crucial to evaluate how the mass of people will react.
“There are many situations where this information could be used to good effect,” says Professor Jens Krause of the University’s Faculty of Biological Sciences. “At one extreme, it could be used to inform emergency planning strategies and at the other, it could be useful in organising pedestrian flow in busy areas.”
They conducted a series of experiments in which groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. A few of them received more exact instructions about wherethey were supposed to go. They were not allowed to talk with each other, but they were supposed to stay within an arm’s reach of any other person. So the results were not that surprising, when you stop to think about it: the ‘informed individuals’ were followed by others in the crowd.
“We initially started looking at consensus decision making in humans because we were interested in animal migration, particularly birds, where it can be difficult to identify the leaders of a flock,” says Professor Krause. “But it just goes to show that there are strong parallels between animal grouping behaviour and human crowds.”