This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
Say an alarm goes off, and it’s not a drill. Everyone rushes for one door, but the lighted exit sign is on the other side of the room. What do you do?
A new online simulation reveals that our herd instinct overwhelms reason during an emergency, Science reports.
Researchers from the University of Essex created a game to study our decision making during an evacuation. Previous work on this kind of behavior and interaction have mostly come from interviews with survivors of real evacuations or from computer simulations.
By including players, the evacuation computer game makes modeling more realistic -- but still safe and more controlled than an experimental setup with real risks.
More than 500 people faced various emergency scenarios in an interactive virtual environment (pictured). They had to choose between different exit routes under the influence of three types of directional information: signs, movement of simulated crowds, and memorized information.
The findings show that people tend to follow the herd -- even when it seems to be heading the wrong way. Uh oh.
Ultimately, researchers hope the game will help us understand how individuals make movement decisions in crowds -- which could lead to safer building designs and evacuation procedures.
Try playing the game yourself. (I really wanted to see if I’d get out alive, but at the time of writing, I couldn’t get a Java plugin to work on any of my browsers. Will update!)
Images: Nikolai Bode, University of Essex