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Why do freshmen stand directly outside of crowded lecture halls?

Every time I exit our networks class, I’m impeded by a gaggle of overenthusiastic students, eager to rush into the auditorium 15 minutes before their class. Similar events occurred at my ¬†chemistry lectures, where there would be a line of students snaking down the stairs from Baker 200. It seems inevitable that for any lecture hall of >200 people, you will be forced to shoulder through a gaggle of students that just can’t wait to learn about ester hydrolysis. ¬†Things would go so much smoother if they stood further outside the entrance to the classroom. The networks class would exit faster, and all of them would get into the auditorium faster. So why crowd around the entrance of the lecture hall? This is the topic of crowd theory, the seemingly irrational behavior of people when in large numbers, and their susceptibility towards following a small minority ( However, is this a psychological phenomenon at play, or simply logical choices based on game theory?

Let’s assume the goal is to get into the front seats of the class, which fill up rather quickly. Every individual student has two strategies. He can stand in front of the door of kennedy hall, or he can stand far enough away that the previous occupants can filter out quickly. Now obviously the ideal situation would be for every student to stand far away. We’d get out of networks faster, and they’d get into the auditorium faster. However, this isn’t an equilibrium. Any given student will improve upon his individual situation by breaking away from the pack and standing in front of other students. He may be able to slip in between two groups of people exiting the auditorium, and he will have better overall position in the queue. So much like the prisoner’s dilemma, individuals will eschew a jointly beneficial strategy in favor of that which maximizes individual payoff. And if everybody follows this strategy, the overall result is that everybody is worse off than the joint strategy.

-Chug Chug Chug Chug


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