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The social relationship to others in crowded situations determines the saliency and intensity of density’s effects, or the reverse. High social density has been shown to increase anxiety and decrease task accomplishment. Even the anticipation of density can have deleterious effect. Conditions wherein potential negative aspects of high density are salient are said to constitute crowding. Crowding is defined as a psychological state having stress. Crowding has motivational properties that elicit movement toward coping strategies. The effectiveness of coping strategies are dependant upon access to behavioral freedom, resources, and privacy or methods of establishing locus of control. High density and loss of control degrade the individual’s ability to restrict sensory input. High density and loss of control lead to learned helplessness. Males are more likely to experience crowding due to a greater propensity for females to share distress. Gender differences in reactions to crowding are reversed under long term conditions, due to more effective withdrawal strategies employed by men. But higher spatial density aboard military submarines does not result in higher rates of aggression or courts-martial. This is due in part to the decrease in customs and courtesy. It is difficult to effect efficient task accomplishment when one must stop and salute an officer one must squeeze past in a narrow corridor. Therefore saluting is restricted in such conditions. Greater cooperation and affiliation in crowded conditions is accomplished by the high espirit-de-corps amongst the submarine service. According to some researchers, high density is associated with negative affect in males as evidenced by less liking of others and an increase in withdrawal strategies. I suggest that the higher affiliation rates amongst females above that of males found in these studies is more a function of the intricacies of the studies than any supposed gender difference in psychology. Evidence links high density with higher rates of illness. Increase of stress is reflected by increased adrenal activity. A result of the fight or flight mechanism activation is an increase of arousal, pupils dilate increasing visual acuity, heart rate increases delivery of glucose and oxygen to the brain, consciousness becomes more attentive to the environment. Studies have found high density and hypertension and tachycardia are correlated as well as adrenal byproducts in urine. Skin conductance, palmar sweat and cortical levels all increase although perceptions of control ameliorate these effects. Research has established aversive somatic results for animals such as hormone imbalance and depressed immunological function. Studies have also shown decreased fertility. These effects are analogous to the effects of the general adaptation syndrome and thus it is reasonable to guess an increase of stress is at the heart of the matter. High population density conditions lead to disease and behavior disorders. High density accentuates contagion as in the spread of emotional states, as well as the spread of pathogenic microorganisms. Crowd behavior such as applause, a crowd wave at a sporting event or the phenomena of young girls screaming and fainting at a Frank Sinatra concert are examples of contagion of emotional states. People who are highly affiliative are more tolerant of high density. Since high density affects affect and arousal, and since long term arousal affects illness, it would naturally follow that long term exposure to high density would cause illness.
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About the Author
Merle E Ackeret
APA affiliate B. S. Psy CCU Delta Episilon Tau Gamma of California AGS, AAOT Linn-Benton C. C. Phi Theta Kappa Alpha Tau Upsilon chapter nat
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