A feeling of crowdedness depends on a lot more than how many people are around, reports a Texas A&M University psychologist.
"People generally think that crowding is totally based on the amount of space a person has," says psychologist Stephen Worchel. "What came to my attention was that at sports events like basketball and football games people had almost no space and didn't seem to feel crowded."
To test that hunch, Worchel showed a group of volunteers four film or television clips -- a comedy, a boxing match, a sexually explicit episode and an ecology documentary on the Florida Everglades -- under crowded and uncrowded conditions.
Worchel found that "people who watched arousing movies under conditions that violated personal space enjoyed the movie more and felt less crowded than those who had watched the non-arousing segment under the same conditions."
In earlier studies, Worchel found that people feel less hemmed-in when they respond to others as clearly defined groups rather than as individuals. For example, he says, 10 people in red uniforms and 10 people in blue uniforms will tend to feel less crowded in a small space than 20 ordinarily dressed people in the same space. Also, a person with a small space all to himself feels less crowded than with a much larger space shared with others.
The findings, he says, could have a bearing on efforts to reduce the effects of crowding in school dormitories or prisons -- without having to build more facilities.