Solutions for the Harmful Effects of High Population Density Term Paper

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Psychology -- the Effects of Population Density and Noise

Population density affects territoriality, privacy, personal space and noise levels. These four psychological elements involve perception and high population density affects all of them in ways that are physiologically and psychologically harmful to humans. Through decades of experience and study, experts have learned to use perception to reduce the harmful effects of high population density. The introduction of nature and the use of design to create the perception of ample space can dramatically reduce the harmful effects of high population density on territoriality, privacy and personal space. In addition, the uses of noise masking and noise-absorbing materials have reduced the harmful effects of noise. Just as perception can increase harm, perception can also decrease harm.


a. Population Density

"Population density" is the number of people residing in an area divided by the size of that area (National Geographic Society). Population density rises as the number of persons living in a given area rises. When population density increases, territoriality, privacy, personal space and noise levels are all affected. The psychological effects of high population density on territoriality, privacy, personal space and noise levels range from physiologically and psychologically mild to severe (Veitch and Arkkelin 259). Territoriality, privacy and personal space are examined by "Proxemics," which studies "the nature, degree, and effect of the spatial separation individuals naturally maintain…and of how this separation relates to environmental and cultural factors" (Merriam-Webster, Inc.). Through Proxemics and other social sciences, experts have monitored and attempted to counter the damaging effects of high population density.

Territoriality is an individual's control of the space around him/her, particularly regarding the space between himself/herself and others (Veitch and Arkkelin 255-6). There are three categories of territoriality: primary territory, which is exclusively "owned" by the individual for a comparatively permanent time period; secondary territory, is public or semi-public areas that are "rented" by an individual rather than owned permanently; and public territory, which is shared by the individual with others (Veitch and Arkkelin 260). Through behaviors that are preventive or reactive, an individual will inform others that a certain space is "owned" or "rented" for his/her use. Privacy is a dynamic process in which an individual controls others' access to himself/herself or his/her group (Veitch and Arkkelin 271). While territoriality governs space, privacy governs individual access. This access can include personal interactions and information that others may have with this individual. Personal space is an individual's mobile invisible boundary around his/her self, the psychological space of personal territoriality (Veitch and Arkkelin 276). There are several types of personal space, ranging from physically close to physically distant spaces between the individual and others, including intimate distance, personal distance, social distance and public distance. Territoriality, privacy and personal space needs vary from individual to individual and from culture to culture and rely heavily on an individual's and/or group's perceptions (Veitch and Arkkelin 245-6). Encroachment on territoriality, privacy and/or personal space can result in annoyance, anxiety, illness and protective behaviors such as aggression and even outright attack (Veitch and Arkkelin 246). As population density increases, encroachment or even the impression of encroachment increases, leading to annoyance, anxiety, illness and protective behaviors such as aggression and even outright attack.

Due to the high population density of urban areas, social scientists have introduced methods to reduce the ill effects of encroachment on territoriality, privacy and personal space. One widely used method is the introduction of nature into the urban environment. Urban parks, for example, have psychological benefits for city dwellers lacking their own yards (Ulrich 14), provide a refuge from the stresses of "urban interactions," give individuals the feeling that they are part of nature and provide calming sensory stimuli through allowing the individual to enjoy the stable but continual changes in nature (Yates and Ruff 13). The beneficial psychological effects of introducing nature into the urban environment reduce the harmful psychological effects of encroachment on territoriality, privacy and personal space (Yates and Ruff 13). Another method of reducing the harmful effects of population density is to create the illusion of greater space through design (Straub 113). Since perception is an important element of territoriality, privacy and personal space, changing the perception of overcrowding to a perception of ample space reduces the harmful effects of encroachment. As the population continues to increase, the use of design to create the impression of ample space becomes increasingly important for humans' sense of control and well-being. Both the introduction of nature and design to create the perception of ample space are widespread methods for reducing the harmful effects of higher population densities in urban areas.

b. Noise

Noise is a sound wave that is unwanted or interferes with normal sound transmission (Veitch and Arkkelin 208). The perception of noise is highly subjective but academic sources agree that sources of noise include transportation vehicles such as cars, trucks and busses, as well as gatherings of people, such as parties or bar crowds (Veitch and Arkkelin 208). As population density increases, noise also increases. The high noise levels inherent in urban life can cause increasing and chronic psychological and physiological harm. Individuals exposed to chronic noise can experience increased stress, higher blood pressure and higher levels of cortisol, cardiovascular disease, sleep disturbances, anxiety and decreased ability to perform tasks (Veitch and Arkkelin 220-6). Furthermore, because perception is a key component of noise, the more a person perceives sound as noise, the more harmful the sound is to that person, and the less control a person has over that noise, the more harmful the sound is to that person (Straub 26). Children are also affected by noise, particularly because they cannot discern or control noise as easily as adults and their learning skills, particularly verbal skills, are decreased because they often block out verbal stimuli as well as noise (Veitch and Arkkelin 218). Consequently, while noise may sometimes seem trifling, its damaging effects on children and adults are clear and profound.

The psychological and physiological harms caused by high noise levels have compelled experts to create strategies for reducing or counteracting noise in the workplace and living environment. Noise masking uses technology to create opposing noise to "cancel out" offending noises in the hearer's perception (ProAudioSupport). While noise masking is effective in a number of situations, this solution is particularly useful when one is attempting to cancel out repetitive noises such as those experienced in a factory setting because the masking noises can also be repetitively and easily produced (ProAudioSupport). A second strategy for dealing with noise is the use of materials to absorb sound. In a home or office, those sound-absorbing materials may include carpeting, fabrics, curtains and/or stuffed furniture, which very effectively soak up and reduce noise in the environment (Lebednik). In a factory setting, sound-absorbing materials such as walls, padding or foam can enclose noise-producing machinery, be placed between the worker and the noisy machinery or even form part of the building's structure (Lebednik). Though these are only two solutions for noise reduction, they have been so effective that they have been used for decades in both working and living environments.

3. Conclusion

Population density increases as the number of persons living in a given area increases. This increased population density affects territoriality, privacy, personal space and noise levels. Territoriality, which is an individual's control of the space around him/her, is divided into primary territory, secondary territory and public territory. Privacy is the dynamic control of others' access to an individual through personal interactions or information. Personal space is an individual's mobile, invisible, psychological territoriality. These three psychological realities differ according to individuals and cultures. However, all three can be seriously encroached by high population density. The encroachment on territoriality, privacy and personal space can result in annoyance, anxiety, illness and protective behaviors such as aggression and even…[continue]

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