Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Since we're keeping this quantitative how might you model where men choose to pee at a urinal?
There's basically a short range repulsion and a long range attraction - normalised such that the potential minimum is two thirds of the length of the room. This is a well known problem in physics as, for instance, atoms in a solid are attracted to each other at long range and repelled from each other when they stray to close.
I bet this generalises to how people fill up in any circumstance e.g. in a row of seats or in a lift. Having had a quick play on google it occurs to me that the people who design tube trains and alike should factor in these considerations if they want to most efficiently fill their vehicles when the density of people is at some medium to high value. Are there any other places where it would be a benefit to improve filling density?
A wild idea to generalise this further might be to consider how people fit their opinions in a spectrum of ideas. Again there's the attraction of peer pressure (you want your opinions to fit with the crowd) but the repulsive force of expressing one's individuality (you want to stand out as an intellectual pioneer). Most psychological versions of experiments to test this kind of phenomena show peer pressure dominating. I don't think this invalidates the idea, though, as the construction of the experiment means there is no benefit to standing out from the crowd. Creating an experiment that includes a repulsive term to get a more realistic effect is a trickier question. There has to be two benefits; one which is gained through a correct answer, the other which is gained through being different.
(as a related aside i wonder whether anyone's tested whether personal space is room dependent?)