Population Density affects human beings mentally, physically, and socially. The quiet spacious country life is certainly not for everyone and for monetary reasons not even an option for impoverished families. Country life is often associated with good health because of clean air, water and good fresh food. However, another benefit to health may be quiet. The affect of noise on humans is still an area of research but in common sense terms a generally agreement is that noise is undesirable when rest or intellectual concentration is needed. The lack of privacy and loss of personal territory is another concern in dense population areas. The population of the Earth is rapidly increasing and with this increase the affects on human beings becomes a significant area of research in the field of environmental psychology.
Staples (1997) states that, “Exposure to high-level noise is a physical stressor that can directly alter physiological processes, particularly the functioning of the cardiovascular and endocrine, systems.” (p. 2) Cognition or how noise is mentally processed seems to have a relationship on the level of effect of the stressor but researchers believe noise can have the same affect as other stressors such as the loss of a loved one or sleep deprivation. The effect of stressors is commonly believed to have links to illness.
Staples (1997) reports that research on noise has greatly reduced because of budget cuts in the 1980s. Policy since then has been based on annoyance indexes. Staples (1997) believes studies which just produce data on annoyance levels are not reaching the true problems that are both physical and psychological in nature. The lack of depth in studies fails to address different responses from population groups. Different groups in different locales have different tolerance levels to noise. This difference is most likely because of exposure. People who lived in quiet areas removed from urban environments have distinctly less tolerance for noise that those who have been constantly exposed to noise. This fact can be extremely expensive in hindsight as is evident in the Expanded East Coast Plan ( a major traffic rerouting plan on the east coast which routed traffic through rural areas). The protest from local residents was so severe that Congress responded with a retroactive review of the environmental impact costing $4.5 million dollars. This kind of situation points clearly to the need for proper research that is random enough in nature to produce results that encompass all life-style groups. In simple terms, what is acceptable for some is not for others. Therefore, a level setting by say the aviation commission which is considered an acceptable level for an otherwise quiet area may be noise that is many times the norm for that area.
Strategies for Noise Reduction
Many kinds of noise exist in workplace areas which require different solutions to reducing noise levels. This author drawing on 15 years of classroom teaching can attest to the dire need for noise control in classrooms through acoustic design. Nothing is more frustrating for an educator than teaching in echo producing classrooms. The affect on learning is more significant than most people would imagine. A certain amount of clamor in a junior high or high school classroom is normal. However, this is quite acceptable for a teacher in an acoustically designed classroom. In contrast, a room that echoes is frustrating for both teachers and students. This chaotic noise is a stressor for all involved. In other workplaces non- acoustically designed rooms are also a hindrance to efficient work and intellectual thought.
Raffaello and Maass (2002) did a comparison field study on two very noisy factories. One factory was moved to a new location where the noise levels were greatly reduced and the other factory was untouched. The result of the study held true to the predication as Raffaello and Maass (2002) confirm:
The hypotheses were fully confirmed, suggesting that environmental conditions reliably affect not only the worker’s physical and psychological well-being but also organizationally relevant variables such as image of and attachment to the company, which have largely been ignored by previous research. (p. 1)
The conclusions of Raffaello and Maass (2002) lend credit to the noise reduction strategy of paying close attention to acoustics in architectural design. In addition, this study brings up another important way to deal with noise in factories. This being the selection of machines used in production. Granted machinery is expensive but extra expense for quieter running machines can obviously pay off in many ways. Greater dedication from employees and good physical and psychological well-being will increase production, lower health absences. and decrease workmen compensation from illness.
Territoriality, Privacy, and Personal Space
According to Veitch and Arkkelin (1995) establishing claim to an area and protecting that area is territoriality. Animals have instinctual territorial characteristics proved by smells or colors that produce responses of fight or flight. Animals also exhibit behavior based on group membership. Distance separation can cause anxiety. Therefore animals act with both group and individual territoriality. Although human territoriality seems also to be instinctive Altman (1975 as cited by Veitch and Arkkelin 1995) sums up the difference in this statement:
Thus, human-response repertoires seem to be richer, more variable, and more complex than animal territorial responses. . . . People seem to have a very subtle and sensitively gradated response repertoire in relation to territory, involving complex blends of verbal, nonverbal, and environmentally related behaviors. (pp. 259-260)
Veitch and Arkkelin (1995) explain privacy is related to territory in markers like private property no trespassing but has several other variables. In one way, privacy is a way to decide how much contact comes between the self and others. In another way, privacy is restricting contact that changes in time and place. In still another way, privacy is a way to gauge the interaction with others to determine whether the interaction is beneficial or not. In the U.S. constitution privacy of citizens is related to the governments surveillance activities and the restriction of those activities.
In regards to personal space Veitch and Arkkelin (1995) define personal space as a protective area around the body and thus is not stationary like territory. Personal space is also not restricted to a set limit and in fact grows bigger or decreases in size depending on social situations. Personal distance is an obvious protection mechanism defined as about one foot to two and a half feet. Encroaching into this area certain sensory mechanisms like sight are limited and defense is limited.
The Effects of the Growth in Population Density
Veitch and Arkkelin (1995) in summarizing the effects of population density propose that increases in population density increase the likelihood that violations will occur in the boundaries of territory, privacy and personal space. The extent of the problems this may cause is yet to be discovered but shows the need for research to define population density and pinpoint the effects of overcrowding. This research is difficult because of the ability of humans to adapt to unusual circumstances.
The effects of population density are myriad but noise as a negative influence is quite clear. Noise in areas like education facilities, places of healing and industrial workplaces does reduce satisfaction in life and productivity. Using strategies like architectural acoustical design and better engineering design of machines has a definite positive affect on students and factory workers. In addition to noise territory, privacy and personal space are subject to increased violations as population increases. The tolerance levels of violations of privacy and noise vary on the experience of subject groups. Thus extensive research is required to determine the extent of damage that occurs from increase in population. As always humans make such a study difficult because of the ability to adapt to unusual circumstances. However, with the world’s population explosion environmental psychology becomes a very necessary research field to determine when humans’ ability to adapt is overwhelmed.
Raffaello, M. & Maass, A. (2002). Chronic exposure to noise in industry. Environment and Behavior, Vol. 34, No. 5, 651-671 (2002) Retrieved April 20, 2009 from
Staples, S. (1997, December). Public Policy and Environmental Noise: Modeling Exposure or Understanding Effects. American Journal of Public Health, 87(12), 2063-2067. Retrieved April 20, 2009, from MasterFILE Premier database.
Veitch, R.& Arkkelin, D. (1995). Environmental psychology: an interdisciplinary perspective. Prentice Hall