If George A. Romero had visited the BBC website on July 9, 2013, he might have smiled whimsically at a short article in the science section. Even on first glance, the respective headline that read “Essex University uses ‘zombies’ in evacuation study,”1 hardly seemed to refer to an empirical behavioral study using probands from some prevailing generation of allegedly shallow-brained and sheepish B.A. students. On the contrary, it alluded to a project that presumably for the first time designated academic honors to zombies: A team around mathematician Nikolai Bode and biologist Edward Codling modeled the exit route choices in emergency scenarios by using data generated by a zombie-themed computer game. In this interactive virtual environment the players – as opposed to the protagonists of Romero’s classical zombie movie Dawn of the Dead (USA 1978) who seek shelter in a deserted shopping mall – had to escape from a building.2 This simulated environment was filled with computer-controlled agents – the zombies – who also tried to escape from the scenery, competing with the players for viable exits. Would they avoid crowded areas and try to find individual routes, or would they go with the herd? Would the model show rational choices, or would it show patterns rather associated with an egoistic behavior uncontrolled by social or cultural constraints, which is commonly simply called panic?
On any account, the study contributes to a debate about the collective behavior of human crowds in critical situations and of the affects involved in these interaction processes that has now lasted for more than a century. The discourse spans from early theories of mass psychology around 1900 to recent approaches in fields such as complex systems studies. Given this historical index it is certainly not a coincidence that the paper had been published in the journal Animal Behaviour. From the very beginning, human mass behavior had been compared to the behavior of animal collectives, and accordingly had been subsumed under a cloud of being irrational, unconscious, or purely instinctive – and therefore devoid of everything that would characterize a self-determined subject. And whilst the authors associated with mass psychology3 included insights from 19th-century natural scientists into their writings, today’s approaches intertwine biological, sociological and psychological findings in computer-technological models of collective dynamics.4 Still, an ongoing mutual query concerns the role of the...
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Affect, or the process by which emotions come to be embodied, is a burgeoning area of interest in both the humanities and the sciences. For »Timing of Affect«, Marie-Luise Angerer, Bernd Bösel, and Michaela Ott have assembled leading scholars to explore the temporal aspects of affect through the perspectives of philosophy, music, film, media, and art, as well as technology and neurology. The contributions address possibilities for affect as a capacity of the body; as an anthropological inscription and a primary, ontological conjunctive and disjunctive process as an interruption of chains of stimulus and response; and as an arena within cultural history for political, media, and psychopharmacological interventions. Showing how these and other temporal aspects of affect are articulated both throughout history and in contemporary society, the editors then explore the implications for the current knowledge structures surrounding affect today.