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Heavy Metal Studies: The physics behind mosh pits


Last Updated on 10:38 PM by Giorgos Tsekas

Usually I talk about scientific studies trying to understand the metal culture. However, urged by my visit to a Machine Head show and some crazy mosh pit action earlier this week in Belgium, I remembered another interesting piece of research. While collective behavior in animals is well documented, for example in a flock of birds or a school of fish, humans tend to follow their own set of ‘rules’ when moving in large masses. Today I would like to share a research project that uses a much discussed phenomenon from our beloved culture to explain the collective behavior of humans: mosh pits.

Two metalheads/physicists, Jesse Silverberg and Matthew Bierbaum, never thought of bringing their music passion into their research projects until one of them brought his girlfriend along to a live show. Instead of throwing himself into the pit (Testament reference intended), he stood at the sidelines keeping his girlfriend save from harm. However, while observing the pit the trained eye of the physicist kicked in and he started wondering if all the crazy action was not so random as it first seemed.

Visiting more shows and studying video clips of big mosh pits online the researchers found that while the behavior of one person in the pit is unpredictable, the movement of the group as a whole is not. Basically, people in a mosh pit move around like molecules in gas. One of the videos analyzed is from yet another Machine Head show at Wacken Open Air. I was lucky to be present there as well and the size of that circle pit was just insane! More videos used can be found on the project’s website.

Using a mathematical model, the scientists were able to replicate standard mosh pits and circle pits in simulations. Even if you don’t know much about physics the simulation and its parameters are fun to play around with.

Why is this type of research useful, you could ask? Well, the analysis of moshers who voluntarily throw themselves in the whirling see of human flesh can teach the researchers a thing or two about the behavior of humans in riots or outbreaks of mass hysteria. Events that people usually want to stop or even prevent from happening.

The original scientific article can be retrieved here.

aiming not to collapse blocking up all the checks celebrate in the wave that we build at once it is a thing to believe in: voluntary receiving come on we’re rolling it on, watch the circle go 66 degrees, stifled, cough and breathe getting kicked to the front, to the left and back and when you’re hitting the ground you’ve got no second to count until they’re pulling you up to go on and on bell rings in my head – welcome to the pit!!

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