Pilot Study of Mental Simulation of People Movement During Evacuations





Mental Simulation, People Movement, Evacuation, Modeling


Mental simulation of people movement forms a core component of pedestrian/evacuation analysis and planning, albeit one that is rarely addressed. It can be defined as the process by which a practitioner develops a narrative of how people within a built environment may move to inform a decision-making process regarding architectural or procedural design. There are a range of contexts in which a practitioner may use mental simulation. These can include assisting with identifying problems associated with architecture/procedural design and comparing with pedestrian/evacuation modelling results to suggest if these are in line with expectations.. Little research has been conducted exploring the process by which practitioners mentally simulate people movement, its efficacy, and what factors influence this process. This paper is intended to provide insights regarding this process. Results from an online survey are presented where expert practitioners where asked questions about a range of hypothetical evacuation scenarios with increasing complexity regarding what they expected the total evacuation time to be and how many people they expected to use each exit if they were simulated in a pedestrian/evacuation model. Participants were also asked how confident they were with their results. The survey data was then compared with results with evacuation model results of the same scenarios. Key findings from the study highlight that as the floor plan layout and behavioural complexity increase in a scenario, the greater the level of variation in responses between practitioners along with decreasing levels of accuracy and levels of confidence in their perceived ability for performing mental simulation of people movement. Floor plan and exit symmetry appear to influence a practitioner’s ability to mentally simulate people movement in terms of estimating evacuation times and exit usage when layouts/exit locations change.


Hurley, M.J., Gottuk, D., Hall, J.R., Harada, K., Kuligowski, E., Puchovsky, M., Torero, J., Watts, J.M., Wieczorek, C. (eds.): SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering. Springer, New York, NY (2016). doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-2565-0

De Groot, A.D.: Thought and Choice in Chess. Mouton Publishers, The Hague (1965)

Kahneman, D., Tversky, A.: The simulation heuristic. In: Daniel Kahneman Paul Slovic, A.T. (ed.) Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1998)

Klein, G.A.: Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. MIT Press (1999)

Bloom, B.S., Broder, L.J.: Problem-solving processes of college students. Supplementary Educational Monographs (1950)

Klein, G., Crandall, B.W.: The role of mental simulation in problem solving and decision making. In: Local Applications of the Ecological Approach to Human Machine Systems. CRC Press (1995)

Cover image




How to Cite

Kinsey, M., & Gwynne, S. (2024). Pilot Study of Mental Simulation of People Movement During Evacuations. Collective Dynamics, 9, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.17815/CD.2024.175



Special Issue of Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics 2023