As you walk down the aisle, you pass through a crowd, with your eyes on the front of your face. This design can be something you do on your own. But scientists who study crowd movements have found that a simple journey through the crowd is much more like the dance we play with those around us.
And so it may not be surprising to know that a person looking at a phone while walking in the private world is really confused, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.
People use different visual cues to predict where other members of the crowd will go, says Hisashi Murakami, a professor at the Kyoto Institute of Technology and author of a new article. He wondered what would happen if attention to detail was lost, so as a result of an outdoor experiment at the University of Tokyo, he and his colleagues filmed a 30-foot-long walkway between two groups of students.
The groups were walking towards each other at a normal pace. When the groups met, the students intuitively performed the exercises familiar to those who were studying the crowd. They formed belts. When one person in front of a group made his way through the oncoming group, the others fell behind the man, creating several lanes of pedestrians passing by. It was effortless, almost instantaneous.
The researchers then asked three students to do a task on their phone while walking. A simple one-digit character, not subject to much taxation, but enough to look down. “
When these students were placed with their group, the deviation did not affect how the groups moved side by side. But when the wanderers were in front of the box, the whole group’s gait slowed down sharply. The formation of clean belts also took longer.
Deviated people did not move smoothly either. They took big steps from the side or avoided others in a way that researchers rarely saw when there were no deviations. The careless pedestrian of the experience caused that behavior in others as well. People who did not look at their phones moved more motley than they did when there were no phone calls. It turns out that a few people who do not pay full attention to navigation can change the behavior of an entire crowd of more than 50 people.
Researchers suggest that looking at someone’s phone can have this effect, as it deprives others of the information contained in our view. Wherever we look, it broadcasts details of where we are going to go next. Even without that, it is more difficult for passers-by to avoid us elegantly. And just avoiding others when we move, avoiding the eyes rather than moving purposefully, makes us more unpredictable.
As more and more people use smartphones and other devices that facilitate diffuse walking, it may be necessary for mob architects and urban planners to take this change into account, say researchers.
Dr. Murakami plans to track the movements of people’s eyes as they pass each other. He hopes that these studies will reveal how our views help us navigate the crowd. What messages do we convey about our next steps when performing this daily ritual, everyone is unaware of.