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Mosh pits help scientists study human behavior

Thursday - 2/21/2013, 3:38pm  ET

Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - When Cornell University physics doctoral student Jesse Silverberg researched human behavior during riots and after disasters, he didn't go to a library. He went to a heavy metal mosh pit.

Silverberg and fellow researcher Matt Bierbaum say mosh pits follow the rules of physics. And they hope by studying the human behavior of such wild dancing that they will better understand how humans react in extreme situations.

"Absolutely! I've been in mosh pits for the past 13 years," tells Silverberg.

Bierbaum says in their two years of research they differentiated two kinds of heavy metal dancing, the "mosh pit" and the "circle pit."

Silverberg and Bierbaum found moshing at heavy metal shows seems to follow the same rules as the theories of collective motion and the properties of gaseous particles, and they parallel the way humans react in emergencies.

"In the mosh pit, people move around randomly bouncing off each other in chaos," says Bierbaum. "In the circle pit, people are highly ordered, following each other in a circle or vortex fashion."

Bierbaum and Silverberg went to heavy metal shows attempting to film the dancing, smashing, and running seen in mosh pits.

"Unfortunately we didn't get great results from that so we ended up using YouTube videos," says Silverberg.

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