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Feeling Crowded??

Updated on August 20, 2012

With the world’s population growing to over 7 billion, crowding has become a hot topic over the past few years, with more psychologists studying the effects of crowding. Although many people believe that crowding is a physical state, such as too many people in a crowded subway train, crowding is actually a psychological state. It is an individual’s belief that they do not have enough space to be able to function how they wish (Straub, 2007). In his article, “World Population Hits 7 Billion: Feeling Overcrowded Yet?” psychologist Guy Winch examines the psychological impact of overcrowding.

In his article, Winch includes an anecdotal story about a friend who attended dinner with her parents commenting that “overcrowding is such huge problem” and her mother’s response “I know! It’s becoming impossible to get decent dinner reservations!” This story illustrates how crowding and population density are not synonymous and how crowding is impacting people’s lives in ways that they might not realize. The author’s friend who had just recently returned from a trip to India was commenting about how the population in India is over 1 billion. And how the population in that country as well as many others is skyrocketing and contributing to the global problem of overcrowding. On the other hand the mother was referring to her experience and her inconveniences with a crowded restaurant. This little exchange between daughter and mother illustrates how crowding is a psychological state and how dependent upon the individual it is. To the daughter, the fact that India’s major city, Calcutta’s population is about 5 million, and has a population density of 70,000 people per square mile, which is two and half times more populated than New York City (Whitty, 2010) constitutes crowding, but to the mother, waiting an extra half an hour on dinner reservations constitutes crowding.

According to Winch’s article, overcrowding produces “competition for limited resources” while also posing some tough problems for local governments when it comes to providing sanitation services and sufficient public health care services. As the population grows, population density is going to rise. In an United Nations report, half the population of the world resides in urban areas now, but by 2045 that number will increase to at least two thirds (Winch, 2010). As cities and towns get more populated, and as population densities continue to increase, more individuals will begin to experience some of the psychological effects of overcrowding. Winch cites four different psychological effects of overcrowding including lack of privacy, strained relationships, increased irritability and a “subculture of complaints and discontent”.

Although high population density can cause the crowding effect, it is not always produced by high population density (Straub, 2007). For example, one who attends a concert with hundreds of other people may not feel crowded, but a person who is seeking relaxation in a sauna may feel crowded when another person enters. Crowding has been connected to an increase in aggression, withdrawal from social groups and relationships and an increase in crime rates (Straub, 2007). Studies have shown that as population density increases, aggressive behavior also increases; it becomes more common and more extreme. Along with an increase in aggressive behavior, research studies have shown that mental illness is also seen in higher concentrations in overcrowded areas. In 1939, Faris and Dunham revealed a high number of schizophrenic people living in the crowded populations of central Chicago while another study indicated that 80% of people talked to in midtown Manhattan had measureable psychiatric conditions (Southwick 1971). Crowding may also lead to feelings of anxiousness and irritability and leave individuals more susceptible to illness.

With the rate that the world population is growing, the rate of people feeling the ill effects of crowding is going to grow. Many countries are already struggling with overcrowded conditions in the educational system, jails and hospitals and the situation is only going to get worse. In the conclusion of his article, Winch states “the psychological effects of overcrowding are already having a negative impact in many of our prisons and schools and although this has obviously not been studied yet, given such events are so recent”. It is a concern of environmental psychologists to seek out ways to alleviate the effect of crowding. Crowding is a field of great interest to environmental psychologists because it is a direct way to show the effects of the environment on human behavior. Some studies have been conducted which show with the effects of crowding on a short-term and long-term basis. Some studies on overcrowding in prisons showed inmates subjected to greater populations had higher blood pressure and stress hormones (Straub, 2007). Besides physiological and psychological affects, crowding has significant financial repercussions. Environmental psychologists have begun studying the correlation between the crowding effect and retail shopping. For example a research study found that a high population density is the only way to sustain retail profits, but crowding can affect the buyer’s attitudes and buying behavior (Harrell & Hurt, 1976).

In conclusion, with the population exploding at a great rate, the effects of crowding must be studied in order to better help understand the relationship between the environment and human behavior.


Harrell, G. D., & Hurt, M.D. (1976). Buyer behavior under conditions of crowding: An initial framework. Advances in Consumer Research, 3(), 36-39.

Straub, R. O. (2007). Health psychology (2nd ed.). New York: Worth Publishers

Southwick, C. H. (1971, March). The biology and psychology of crowding in man and animals. The Ohio Journal of Science, 71(2), 65-72.

Whitty, J. (2010, May). Population: the last taboo. Mother Jones, (), . Retrieved from

Winch, G. (2011, October). World population hits 7 billion: feeling overcrowded yet?. Psychology Today , (), . Retrieved from


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