CROWDING AND BEHAVIOR
From many sources we hear of the ill effects of crowding people into restricted quarters. We discuss the problem in term" of community delinquency and mental illness, and we ponder what increasing urbanization will do to the psychological health of the individual. Even studies in college dormitories show that crowding residents together too closely increases competitive behavior. Problems are lessened when the the architectural design permits more social interaction of small groups. A study of people living under crowded, poverty-stricken conditions found that failure to escape from the environment exaggerated mental problems already present. Striving to succeed under unfavorable conditions creates stress without any appropriate outlet. One problem is that disturbed persons set themselves unreasonably high or low goals compared to those of normal persons; These people may respond far more negatively to their living environment than those who find ways for upward mobility. Housing may affect behavior by contributing to or dissipating stress. People tend to avoid residents of poor housing. Such isolation can exaggerate stress and even lead to personality changes. People who live very close to each other tend to share common views and to reinforce one another's attitudes, particularly when there are common environmental problems to talk about. Ironically, we may get some feeling for the human aspects of the problem by turning to animal laboratory studies.
In one study thirty-two domesticated albino rats were placed in a 10 x 14 foot four-chambered home. These animals were observed for sixteen months without any outside interference. They went through their activities in a normal manner. But what would happen if they were forced to continue to live in the same quarters as the colony expanded through birth of new members? At first the animals behaved as do all well-housed laboratory rats. Nests were prepared and the newborn were cared for. Gradually, as the colony expanded from thirty-two to eighty, social patterns of behavior changed. Some rats began to show neuroses. Some males gave up mating habits. They broke into nests and on occasion ate the young who had died from earlier neglect by the mother. Other males withdrew from normal social activities of the colony. Homosexuality became common. Happy family life, as best the experimenter could tell, was broken up. Five repetitions of the study showed the same results, with animals becoming withdrawn as overcrowding increased. Observed one psychiatrist, "One gets the uneasy feeling that we have heard of something not too dissimilar in our own human culture." It could be a miRtake to conclude that family and community problems are a result of people having to live together under abnormally crowded conditions. The lack of enough living space may be just O]le of the many causes of psychological difficulty.
Some Innuences on Styles of Living
From studies of animals and brain-damaged humans and from hormonal and anatomical data, there is evidence of predisposition to aggression, and environmental overcrowding relates to the release of aggression. Although we know that aggression can occur without crowding, we can often relate aggression to frustration which frequently has its source in overcrowding. To say the least, aggressive behavior relates to how we live. We become desensitized by accounts of massive doses of violence from newspapers, magazines, TV, and other media. Crime In the streets has become commonplace. Violence is part of our society. Children play with toy guns and tanks: adolescents and adults find violence institutionalized and glamorized in sports and entertainment. We have become used to violence and often try to escape from it through noninvolvement. Bystander apathy has become common in urban living.
Living under qowded conditions involves adjustments designed to conserve our psychic energy in several ways. First, we tend to shut out some of the sights, sounds, and smells bombarding us, 19noring unpleasant stimuli such as the sidewalk drunk. Second, we may restrict our emotional commitments to a small number of p~ople we can relate to intimately. We often maintain more superficial relationships with others. In a sense 'we put both people and things into categories of priority. Third, we use various screening devices to isolate ourselves psychologically from the social environment. For example, we may refrain from saying "sorry" when we collide with someone on the street. Fourth, we tend to let others look out for the unfortunate person. In contrast to the person who lives in a rural area, or in a small town, and takes a personal interest in local charity, the city dweller leaves the problems of welfare to some impersonal bureaucratic institution. Part of the net effect is that the individual loses not only direct contact with others but also a feeling of responsibility for them. Fifth, as we try to protect ourselves from an overload of problems, we lose some of our feelings of sympathy. Of course, we can argue that if a city dweller attended to every needy person, and acted on every impulse to help, his own life would soon degenerate into chaos. Hence, living in the city adds to noninvolvement behavior. "Passing byon the other side," failing to help even the lonely traveler who was beaten and robbed, is of ancient origin. And thi!i happened in wide. open space. Crowding only adds to the development of life-styles of noninvolvement, and fear of helping others may not be the only factor involved. Let us look at a study.
Bystander Apathy-A Study. Two psychologists studied "diffusion of responsibility" in a safe laboratory situation with college students.
The subjects were led to believe that they were going to participate in group discussion dealing with personal problems in college life.
Each subject was taken into a cubicle off a long hall, seated privately in front of a microphone, and left alone to communicate only by ~ntercom. Actually, though he did not know it, the individual was the only subject. He heard the voice of the experimenter over the intercom explaining the conditions under which the discussion would take place. He was told how many other participants were on the intercom system, each in a separate cubicle. In actuality, each subject heard only recordings.
The"first "student" who spoke noted that one of his problems was occasional epileptic seizures that sometimes came on when he was under stress. "Conversation" among the students began and soon the first "student" reported that he was having a seizure. He said he was choking and going to die; he called for help and then began talking in an incoherent way. The real subject knew the "size" of the discussion group because he had been told before the experiment began. The number of voices he heard over the intercom system substantiated the size of the group.
The results of the experiment showed that when a given subject thought there was only one other subject in the group besides himself, 85 percent of the subjects left the cubicle very quickly to report the seizure while the victim was still on the air. The remaining 15 percent also reported the seizure, but they took longer to react.
The larger the group, the smaller the response. In three-person groups the ·seizure was reported immediately by 62 percent of the subjects. In six-person groups immediate responses we're given by only 31 percent. Although all subjects in the two-person groups eventu~ly reported the seizure, some 20 percent in the three-person groups and' 40 percent in the six-person groups never did make a report. There appears to be a direct relationship between noninvolvement and the number of people around. The more the diffusion of responsibility, the more we are likely to "let George.do it."