A pair of researchers has found that if people in a large crowd identify socially with other members, they tend to feel safe, even as the density goes up. Hani Alnabulsia and John Drury of the University of Sussex, and Umm Al-Qura University respectively conducted a survey of people attending the annual Hajj in Mecca in 2012 regarding their feelings of safety, and also counted members in the crowd to establish density—they've published their results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Crowds can be dangerous places, examples of what can happen appear regularly in the news—from trampling to suffocation to violence, masses of people often spell trouble. For these reasons, many people find themselves feeling scared when in a crowd—particularly when suddenly noticing that their fate is no longer in their own hands. But, as Alnabulsia and Drury note in their paper, that may not always be the case.
One of the danger elements in crowds is perception of fear. If the people in the crowd are afraid something bad is going to happen, they might take actions that wind up causing it to happen. In this new study, the research duo sought to find out if it might be possible in some instances, to feel perfectly safe, despite being in the midst of a horde of other people. To find out, they spoke to 1,194 pilgrims at the Hajj in Mecca in 2012, site of one the largest annual gatherings of people in the world—attendance is close to three million people each year. The researchers also noted crowd density as it applied to those being queried about their feelings regarding their safety—they found at times it approached 8 people per square meter, which is of course, quite packed.