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Velocity of the Human Stadium or "Mexican" La Ola Wave: Systematic Variations Due to Type and Direction

41.26, Monday, 18-May, 8:15 am - 9:45 am, Talk Room 2
Session: Perception and Action: Interactions

Michael McBeath1, R. Chandler Krynen1; 1Department of Psychology, Arizona State University

Introduction: The Human Stadium Wave or Mexican La Ola Wave is a common phenomenon at sporting events in which adjacently seated fans successively stand up and sit down to create a ripple which circles around the stadium, typically about half a dozen times. The velocity of the wave can serve as a metric for natural perception-action timing constraints that guide joint group behavior. The velocity is notable because it appears to be quite reliable without any instructions or aid directing it, and because it may systematically vary based on wave type and direction. Methods: The velocity of the wave was measured at several live professional sporting-event stadiums, from multiple internet recordings of college and professional sporting events (both baseball and football games), and in a large Introductory Psychology class inside a 470-seat auditorium. Waves timed included both lateral and vertical directions, and both stand-and-sit and hands-up-only types. Distances were determined using stadium blue prints and seating depth counts. Results: The findings revealed a reliable velocity of the lateral stand-and-sit wave averaging approximately 25 mph (about 40 feet or close to 20 people per second, standard deviation of 2 people per second). The hands-up-only wave was timed to be very close to twice as fast, at 50 mph (about 80 feet or 40 people per second), while the vertical direction was close to half as fast as the lateral direction. Conclusions: The general reliability of the velocity of the wave supports that it likely represents a universal or natural regularity of human perception-action timing and group behavior. The range of speeds for stand-and-sit waves and hands-up-only waves of 20 and 40 people per second support general biomechanical motoric speed, reaction, and coordination limitations near the same 20-40 Hz rates where both auditory and visual repetitions also become difficult to discern.

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