Disentangling the Impact of Social Groups on Response Times and Movement Dynamics in Evacuations

Nikolai Bode, Stefan Holl, Wolfgang Mehner, Armin Seyfried
PLoS ONE, Vol. 10(3), e0121227

Crowd evacuations are paradigmatic examples for collective behaviour, as interactions between individuals lead to the overall movement dynamics. Approaches assuming that all individuals interact in the same way have significantly improved our understanding of pedestrian crowd evacuations. However, this scenario is unlikely, as many pedestrians move in social groups that are based on friendship or kinship. We test how the presence of social groups affects the egress time of individuals and crowds in a representative crowd evacuation experiment. Our results suggest that the presence of social groups increases egress times and that this is largely due to differences at two stages of evacuations. First, individuals in social groups take longer to show a movement response at the start of evacuations, and, second, they take longer to move into the vicinity of the exits once they have started to move towards them. Surprisingly, there are no discernible time differences between the movement of independent individuals and individuals in groups directly in front of the exits. We explain these results and discuss their implications. Our findings elucidate behavioural differences between independent individuals and social groups in evacuations. Such insights are crucial for the control of crowd evacuations and for planning mass events.

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