In Print: When Zombies Help Us Escape

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what went on in last week’s issue of C&EN. Postapocalyptic films, video games, and nightmares typically involve escaping from zombies. But in the Science Museum of London's ZombieLab exhibit, visitors were asked to help virtual zombies escape in an emergency. In turn, scientists behind the museum's video game got to learn a little bit about human behavior in emergency evacuations. The exhibit featured many zombie-based experiments that observe human behavior, asking questions such as "Can you act rationally during a zombie apocalypse?" and "Can virtual reality create the illusion that you're dissociated from your own body?" They even delved into moral dilemmas that arise from acting violently in self-defense.
BRAINS!! Sure, this evacuation plan looks stupid, but your brain works differently in an emergency. Credit: ZombieLab

BRAINS!!!: Sure, this evacuation looks stupid from the outside, but your brain works differently in an emergency. Credit: ZombieLab

In an experiment that associate editor Andrea Widener writes about in this week's column, 185 volunteers were asked to navigate their zombie avatars into a building and find a specific room. They were then instructed to guide their zombies to a new target outside of the building. There were two exits: the one that player had entered and another almost identical exit that was clearly visible but hadn't been used by the player. Some players were told it was a race and some were not. The players who weren't rushed were equally likely to guide their zombie pals out either exit, leading to an efficient evacuation. But the players who were told bigger, badder zombies were coming and to hurry up (okay, that's some embellishment on Newscripts' part) were more likely to race their zombies back out the door they entered, even if that meant there was a bottleneck at this door and not at the other one (as depicted in the accompanying graphic). The scientists see this as an opportunity to help out with crowd control at major venues such as sporting events, Andrea says, which she thinks is a good idea, given the results. "In real life, it’s actually much more logical that people choose the way they have been before since they don’t know what they are going to get the other way," she says. "But sometimes they will just run by other clearly marked exits, which is dangerous in an actual emergency." So in the event of an emergency, remember to use your brains. And in the event of a zombie apocalypse, remember to protect your brains.  

Author: Sophia Cai

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