Cooperation versus competition in a mass emergency evacuation: A new laboratory simulation and a new theoretical model
Virtual reality technology is argued to be suitable to the simulation study of mass evacuation behavior, because of the practical and ethical constraints in researching this field. This article describes three studies in which a new virtual reality paradigm was used, in which participants had to escape from a burning underground rail station. Study 1 was carried out in an immersion laboratory and demonstrated that collective identification in the crowd was enhanced by the (shared) threat embodied in emergency itself. In Study 2, high-identification participants were more helpful and pushed less than did low-identification participants. In Study 3, identification and group size were experimentally manipulated, and similar results were obtained. These results support a hypothesis according to which (emergent) collective identity motivates solidarity with strangers. It is concluded that the virtual reality technology developed here represents a promising start, although more can be done to embed it in a traditional psychology laboratory setting.