Study on phone-distracted walking wins Ig Nobel

A team including Japanese researchers has been awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for studying how pedestrians distracted by smartphones can disrupt the orderly movement of crowds.

The spoof prize for "research that makes people laugh and then think" was presented on Thursday online instead of the usual venue at Harvard University, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kinetics Prize was awarded to a Japanese, Swiss and Italian team for studying how "mutual anticipation can contribute to self-organization in human crowds."

The team enlisted two groups of 27 pedestrians, and watched how they spontaneously organized bidirectional flows by anticipating each other's movements.
The experiment showed that when three pedestrians in a group were distracted by mobile phones, both the distracted and non-distracted had difficulty avoiding collisions. The team says the group required nearly twice the time to form an orderly pattern.

Assistant Professor Murakami Hisashi of Kyoto Institute of Technology said he was surprised and pleased that the team won the prize. He said he wants people to turn their attention to the interesting individual interactions that shape collective human behavior.

This is the 15th straight year that Japanese researchers have won an Ig Nobel.

The Economics Prize went to a team whose study concluded that politicians' obesity may be a good indicator of their countries' corruption. The Entomology Prize was awarded to studies of a new method of cockroach control on submarines.