Mosh Pits and Physics. Obviously.


A physicist called Jesse Silverberg from Cornell University went to Coachella Festival last year, and noticed something very interesting going on in the crowd.

He saw that paths taken inside of mosh pits resembled the paths taken by gas molecules inside of 2D gas systems.

When loud music (particularly heavy metal) is playing at a concert or a festival, a large circle may open up in the crowd, inside of which the concert-goers violently throw themselves at one another while kicking their legs and flailing their arms. Such is the essence of a mosh pit. This study has noted that mosh pits are the result of a cauldron of bright, flashing lights, loud, fast music, and heavy drinking.

He explains that humans can be modeled in various social situations. For example, at a set of traffic lights, humans follow a wave. the first line moves, and then the next follows, and so on and so forth. Silverberg set out to explain the happenings within mosh pits with a similar model. They split people in the crowd, in and around a mosh pit, into two groups. Everyone in the crowd was dubbed a MASHer (Mobile Active Simulated Humanoids). Those in the mosh pit are known as Active MASHers, while those outside are Passive MASHers.

In the standard mosh pit, active MASHers tend to flock together, and as such the whole pit moves together. As one person knocks into another, everyone else follows. Meanwhile, the Passive MASHers attempt to not participate in the mosh pit, and remain mostly stationary, apart from the rumble caused by the mosh pit itself. From time to time, a passive MASHer is pulled into the pit, and an Active MASHer will escape. This activity very closely mirrors what is going on in a gas; very chaotic and unpredictable.

Another type of mosh pit, known as the circle pit, resembles a vortex rather than a gas. They are more orderly, as far as mosh pits are concerned. A circle pit is where the participants open up a pit, and follow each other in a conga-style spiralling in towards the middle of the circle- where chaos ensues.

Both of these models can be seen in a simulation here.

The researchers involved in this study hope that it will be of significance in the study of crowd behaviour. For example, if festival security staff can understand the path a mosh pit is likely to take, they can prepare accordingly for emergency situations. There is some hope that this model can be applied to riot crowds- although this has been criticised, with people saying that riot crowds do not act similarly whatsoever like concert crowds.

For an explanation of the study straight from the horse’s mouth, click here.

Dale Chapman

This entry was posted by dailysliceofpi.

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