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Cornell University Scientists Examine Mosh Pits for Studies on Riots and Natural Patterns

Mosh Pit
Gaye Gerard, Getty Images

Who says metalheads are just a bunch of chest-pounding neanderthals? Certainly not Cornell University doctoral students Jesse Silverberg and Matt Bierbaum, who are studying within the school’s department of Condensed Matter Physics. The brainy duo have looked to rock and metal concerts in order to study the physics behind mosh pits, which could possibly help scientists gain a deep understanding of extreme situations such as “riots and panicked responses to disasters.”

There’s a certain understanding that fans in the pit share when entering the extreme and hostile piece of the floor. The chaotic social ritual, which at times can become violent, has been studied by Silverberg and Bierbaum for the past two years in an attempt to draw certain parallels between moshing and the “collective motions and physical properties of gases.”

According to the scientists, moshing can be understood in a more naturalistic way, as it shares certain behaviors with gaseous particles which bump and slam into each other, resulting in the elements within flying in chaotic patterns. Even a circle pit can be compared to gases, along with animals such as flying birds or fish, in that the pit practice mimics a “vortex pattern of particulate behavior.”

Silverberg explains the study, “We are interested in how humans behave in similar excited states, but it’s not exactly ethical to start a riot for research.” Thus, where is the best place to examine riot-like conditions? Rock and metal concerts! And which band produced the best results? According to Silverberg, the answer is Killswitch Engage. “Killswitch Engage … always gets the crowd nuts. Although of course everyone has their own favorites.”

Silverberg continues, “The lessons we’ve learned in mosh pits [could be used] to build better stadiums, or movie theaters,” although one of the researchers’ advising professors, James Sethna, offers a more fun explanation. “[The research] didn’t start out for reasons of creating safer stadiums,” begins Sethna. “We did it because it was cool and we wanted to know if we could explain human behavior—albeit slightly intoxicated behavior—without having to use complex [models].”

Head over to National Geographic to check out the full article.

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