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Following the Crowd Or Avoiding It?

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Lots of research has shown that social interactions and observation of other’s choices will normally influence our behaviour towards decision making, where the phenomenon is also described as ‘follow the crowd’ or herd behaviour. However, it not known whether herd behaviour will apply under emergency condition, where there weren’t any research on it, other than an experiment using ants as model as well as several simulations which cannot actually evident on whether herd behaviour occur during panic situation. Hence, this experiment is done with the aim of investigating whether people show significant difference in decision making when faced with high level of uncertainty, where the author hypotheses that ambiguity in terms of the attributes of different escape route alternatives would significantly impact on how humans perceive the decisions of others observed to have chosen those alternatives.

The experiment is designed in a way that each run is a unique combonation of different amount of evacuees, amount of exits, widths of exits and distributions of exit and these independent variable changes each run, where the dependent variable will be the decision as well as the “moment of decision” made by the participant, whereas the size of the experiment room is kept constant.

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The experiment simulated an emergency exit route decision where crowds escape from a room offering (multiple) exit(s) but of different capacity. Every round, the participant will stay in the ‘start area’ until the alarm goes off when they will start rushing out to escape the room. A square obstacle will also be placed in the room in such a way that it blocked the visibility of some exits from certain angles. The full experiment data was collected via trajectory extraction software, which could track the position of each participant by tracking the green beanies wore. The team then analyse individually for the ‘decision moment’ ( moment where the participant show least uncertainty in their decision) and the ‘choice observation’ (factors which could affect the participant’s decision, such as amount of exit, “crowdiness” of each exit e.t.c). However, the central test topic is actually when the participants made up their mind when several exits are not visible, which means they have high ambiguity, which the author refer as ‘partial attribute ambiguity’, which he/she regards as a potential factor impacting on perception of the decision maker.

After analysis of multiple runs and extracting the decision and choice observation, the author concluded that: Firstly, the more crowded an exit point is, the less likely somebody will go and use that exit. Secondly, the experiment also found out that exits which were unobstructed and visible to the participants attracted more people,.

From there on, it can be further be concluded that social interactions are not the main focus when it comes to conjuring up an exit plan, but less obvious factors like environmental and physical factors play a significant role too. Most people would rather depend on themselves, relying on things they can physically see and their prior knowledge in order to make decisions. They may feel that crowded exits are more inconvenient as they would be spending more time waiting in line and, in an emergency situation, that would be undesirable. Thus, the extent of knowledge the participant has will affect how much herd behaviour will affect his movements. If herd behaviour is not beneficial, risky or leads to an unknown outcome, participants are likely to make their own decisions.

However, after reviewing the experimental procedure, we believe that these conclusions are only reliable to a certain extent. There are some limitations to the experimental procedures that have a great impact on the results of the experiment.

For example, this experiment was carried out in a somewhat controlled setting. Although it is likely that the facilitators told the participants to treat it like a real emergency situation, there is no real danger or stimulation for the participants. They will exist less rushiness and fear as all of them knew that even failing to get out of the room quickly isn’t going to cost them anything. Moreover, the experiment did not include other social interactions other than crowd congestion (Shouting, people guiding, etc) that could possibly causes further confusion and causes inefficiency during evacuation. Nextly, As there was “attribute ambiguity”, all exits could be seen as feasible options. No different from one another except for crowd congestion, hence the actual experiment result may not be able to portrait out what could actually happen in real life under certain circumstances. Lastly, other variables related to the individuals which could be crucial to a certain extent are not tested, as “it is outside the scope of the experiment” as well as the software ability to do so.

Despite the limitations, there are various ways in which this research is significant. First, it shows that in situations such as the one simulated in the experiment, one must consider both the social interactions between the people involved, as well as the physical elements of the environment. We should use herd behaviour alone to predict results.


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