In a crosswalk at the rush hour, you make your way through the oncoming crowd, your eyes passing in front of you face to face. This way you can feel that you are doing it on your own. But scientists who have studied the movements of the crowd have found that a simple journey through a crowd is very much like the dance that we do with the people around us.
And so it may not be too surprising to learn that a person staring at a phone, lost in a private world while walking, actually messes with the vibe, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advance.
Hisashi Murakami, professor and author of the new paper at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, said that humans use a variety of visual cues to guess other members of a crowd. He was curious as to what would happen if those details were noticed, and so, in a series of outdoor experiments on the University of Tokyo campus, he and his colleagues filmed two groups of students in a 30-foot-long walkway.
The group moved towards each other at normal speed. When the groups met, the students effortlessly demonstrated a maneuver familiar to those studying the crowd: they made lanes. When the person in front of a group found a way through the ensuing group, the others fell behind the person, leaving several ribbons moving past each other. It was effortless and almost instantaneous.
The researchers then asked the three students to do a task on their phones while they walked – simple single-digit additions, not too much tax but enough to direct them to put their ghazals ahead.
When those students were placed behind their group, the distraction had no effect on how the groups moved apart from each other. But when distracted walkers were at the front of the pack, there was a dramatic slowdown in the pace of the entire group’s running. It also took longer to clear lanes.
Distracted people also did not go smoothly. They took big steps or dodged others in a way that researchers rarely noticed when there was no distracting attention. Inattentive pedestrians in the experiment induced that behavior in others as well; Those who were not looking at their phones went on in a more tempering fashion than at a time when there were no phone-gaugers. It appears that some people who do not pay their full attention to navigation can change the behavior of the entire crowd of more than 50 people.
Researchers suggest that looking at someone’s phone can have this effect because it deprives others of the information contained in our ghazals. Where we see that we transfer broadcast details to where we intend to go next. Without it, it is difficult for passers-by to avoid us gracefully. And as we move along, dodging other people, instead of moving aimlessly, makes us even more unpredictable.
As more and more people use smartphones and other devices that contribute to distracted walking, it may be necessary for architects and city planners to relate mob movement, which takes into account that changed behavior Researchers say.
Dr. Murakami plans next to track people’s eye movements as they move past each other. He hopes these studies will address how our gazes help us navigate the crowd – what message we transmit about our next steps as we do this daily ritual, all unknowingly.