The Effects of Population Density and Noise
The term population density is described as little more than the ratio of organisms to the size of an area (Xpeditions, 2008). This ratio is determined by taking the number of people in a given area and dividing that number by the area they occupy. As of the last U.S. census, the average population density of the United States was 70 people per square mile (Xpeditions, 2008). This is just an objective fact though and has little, if any, applicability to the average American’s daily life. However, when issues of excess population noise and decreased privacy are taken into account the subjective perception of population density meets the objective fact of population density. As population density increases so does the noise that the population produces, especially in crowded areas. Likewise, as people move to a more confined area the ability to maintain privacy and a sense of territoriality adapts and changes. To fully understand how population density affects individual people, the concepts of noise, privacy, territoriality, and personal space must be covered and the relevance of these concepts, and mediation thereof, must be applied to the subject of populations.
Noise refers to any sound, a wave that travel through air medium, that is unwanted or interferes with the normal transmission of acoustic information (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995). Notwithstanding, the perception of noise does involve a psychological component, so the identification and classification of noise is highly subjective. Sound itself has several differentiating perceptual characteristics; pitch, timbre, amplification, which correspond directly with the physical attributes of the sound itself; wave symmetry, wavelength, and wave amplitude. Also, scientists use decibels and hertz to measure sound amplification and frequency, respectively.
Even though there is little knowledge about the neurological language that transmits the physical mechanism of sound to the psychological perception of hearing, there is a general consensus in academic literature that, “…transportation vehicles like cars, trucks, trains, and plains, and gatherings of people at, for example, a rock concert, the neighborhood bar, or a Saturday night BYOB party” are all sources of noise (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995, p. 208). For instance, Bronzaft et al (2008) found that people that live near airports experience four times the normal amount of noise than other residential occupants and are 50% more likely to be bothered by airplane and other transportation noise.
In this example, the subjective perception of noise is influenced by the environment in which the sound is presented. Furthermore, even though noise is largely anthropogenic it can still cause cumulative and chronic psychological and physiological damage; affecting the areas of psychological functioning, social behavior, and task performance. As with almost any environmental stimuli, there are strategies and means by which noise can be mediated and reduced.
Strategies to Reduce Noise
A new technology that is now in use in some industries utilizes computer microprocessors to create opposing sound waves to noise, thereby canceling the noise out altogether (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995). This type of technology is most effective in situations where repetitive noise is experienced, since the opposing waves are easier to produce because they are always of the same type. Currently the technology is being used in airplane pilot helmets to allow them to hear cockpit communications better and cancel out the sound of the engines. Another noise reduction technology involves the use of sound absorbing materials usually placed between equipment and people in order to protect people from unwanted noise. The use of sound absorbing materials and sound canceling technology reduces noise to bearable levels.
Another way to mediate or reduce noise is to modify the source of the noise itself. In the case of industrial equipment, measures should be taken to limit or marginalize rattles, reverberations, and vibrations through proper maintenance and the use of perforated materials (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995). It is important to remember that even though the effects of noise are cumulative, noise itself is not. Only by reducing the loudest sounds can the decibel (db) level be reduced. If medium range noises are eliminated the overall db level does not go down substantially, since db does not follow a linear pattern.
Territoriality, Privacy, and Personal Space
Proxemics is the term used to describe person-environmental spatial associations and covers the areas of territoriality, crowding, and personal space (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995). Proxemics refers to the personal “bubble” that we created around us when we associate with others. In regard to the concept of noise, the positioning of people in their social and physical worlds is predicated on cultural, psychological, and environmental influences.
The traditional definition of territoriality is centered on the marking off and defense of a physical boundary against intrusion by those of the same species (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995). More recently the definition has been updated to refer expressly to the governing of space around an organism, specifically the distance between themselves and others of the same species. In humans, territoriality falls within three domains: primary, secondary, and public. Primary territories are those that are owned exclusively by a person for a relatively permanent amount of time; whereas, secondary territories are those areas that are not owned entirely or permanently, but are “rented”. Primary territoriality has been shown to increase belongingness to social groups in work situations, which in turn reduces turnovers and increases performance (Brown, Lawrence & Robinson, 2005). Last, public territories are those that are open to anyone and follow a first-come-first-serve basis. Primary territories might be a home or dorm room, secondary territories may be a desk at a class that is assigned to a student, and public territories would be the booth at a local McDonalds. There is overlap in these three domains in the day to day activities of individuals, but in most cases the lines are fairly clear.
In large degree, the aim of territorial practices and territorial behaviors is to maintain some semblance of privacy (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995). Although it must be noted that primary territories are much more geared towards privacy than, say, secondary or public territories. Irwin Altman painted the broad strokes by defining privacy as, “…an interpersonal boundary control process…a dialectic process involving a dynamic interplay between the opposing forces of seeking versus restricting access…[and] an optimizing process” (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995, p. 267). By using this verbiage, privacy becomes a dynamic process by which humans regulate exposure of the self to other selves.
Personal space has been described by theorists as the, “shell of a snail…soap bubble worlds…aura…[or] invisible boundaries” (Arkkelin & Veitch, 1995, p. 273). If territoriality is the governing of space between individuals and privacy is the regulation of contact between the self and other selves, then personal space is the mobile territoriality of the self. In short, personal space is the psychological mediated space around oneself which is considered as primary territory and private. There are several different types of personal space: intimate distance (0 – 18 inches), personal distance (18 – 48 inches), social distance (4 – 12 feet), and public distance (12 – 25 feet). Each distance has culturally, socially, and biologically predicated rules which govern which individuals are allowed within those distances and how to interact with those individuals once they are in those zones. These distances are only approximate, since personal space is not a fixed distance, but rather is built upon personal, social, and environmental variables that are present in the surroundings.
Population Density and Territoriality, Privacy, and Personal Space
Privacy guidelines vary from person to person. In fact, Arkkelin & Veitch (1995) go further and say, “…privacy is more closely related to interpersonal relationships than to objective social density” (p. 269). As with many environmental stimuli, medial levels of social inputs are optimal for most people. When population density increases (crowding), needs for privacy, territoriality, and personal space increase as well. In order to regulate social inputs humans become more protective of primary territories. Furthermore, cross-cultural differences have been noted between different cultures, with the Latin cultures maintaining a greater proximity between individuals than North American cultures. In all, population density is only a number given meaning by the social, psychological, and situational context that it exists.
In conclusion, the subjective impression of population density finds its expression through increased noise and decreased privacy. Noise is any sound that is unwanted or that interferes with normal acoustic communication. Sound absorbing materials, noise-canceling microprocessors, perforated materials, and proper maintenance can be utilized to reduce noise. Territoriality is the marking off of a physical space that is regulated by an organism; conversely, personal space is the regulation of the mobile territoriality of the self. Privacy is the regulation of exposure of the self to other selves and becomes more important as population density increases. The regulation of social inputs becomes paramount when population density increases, thereby offering some semblance of privacy and primary territory.
Arkkelin, D., Veitch, R. (1995), Environmental psychology: An international perspective, 1e.New York, NY: Prentice Hall, Inc
Bronzaft, A.L. Cohen, B.S. Goodman, J., Heikkinen, M. Nadas, A. (2008), Airport-related air pollution and noise. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Hygiene, 5(2), 119-129, retrieved on June 28, 2010, from CINAHL Plus with Full Text database
Brown, G. Lawrence, T. B. & Robinson, S. L. (2005), Territoriality in organizations, Academy of Management Review, 30(3), 577-594. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from Business Source Complete database
Xpeditions: A look at the population density of the United States, (2008), National Geographic, Retrieved June 29, 2010, from National Geographic Web site: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/lessons/01/g912/density.html