The Effects of Population Density and Noise

Territoriality, Personal Space, & Privacy

The Effects of Population Density and Noise

As the need for energy conservation and sustainable ecological practices increase, sustainable growth initiatives become vital to urbanization. The characteristics of sustainable communities include: efficient use of resources, land, services and infrastructure. This form of sustainable community provides green spaces and blends nature into its design. The problem with sustainable communities is that they require people to make sacrifices. These sacrifices include loss of territory, personal space, and privacy. These losses can have a negative impact on the psychology of individuals living in these communities.


Like many animals, humans are territorial creatures. Territory is the means by which humans assert there autonomy and individuality. The concept of territoriality encompasses the feeling or belief of ownership. According to Edney (1974), territoriality takes the form or involves aspects of “(a) physical space, (b) possession, © defense, (d) exclusiveness of use, (e) markers, (f) personalization and, (g) identity. possession of it, and perceives it is a defensible position” (Edney, 1974 ). Territoriality is present in most human behaviors and goes unnoticed. For example, when a person leaves a table at a restaurant he or she may leave a personal item such as a hat or coat to mark their place. This is the act of being territorial (Edney, 1974 ). Although the space at a public table is not owned by a person, individuals still claim a form of ownership when they act in this manner.

Territoriality becomes more apparent when one considers the fact the people own homes and belongings. The home is a large factor in territoriality because a home provides personal space and privacy. In sustainable communities, space is maximized which reduces the amount of territory which can be claimed by an individual, thereby reducing personal space and privacy.

Personal Space

Personal space is defined as the physical space that surrounds a person that provides a zone of comfort. Personal space is not a static number and varies tremendously depending upon individual culture.

In the United States, we like to keep about 2 to 4 feet between us and others when having a conversation. Anything closer than 2 feet can either feel anxiety-provoking or intimate, depending upon its context. When people get physically closer, one emotion usually kicks in — anxiety. We start to feel anxious and for those especially prone to it, more claustrophobic. When the situation is one of intimacy, that anxiety quickly dissipates and is replaced by feelings of intimacy and sexual heat (McGunn, 2013).

As personal space is perceived to be infringed upon, people become anxious and fearful (McGunn, 2013). This sense of infringement on space is worsened by the fact that in sustainable communities the lack of space also reduces the person’s privacy. Lack of privacy can have a tremendously negative impact when coupled with loss of territory and space.


Privacy is a strange paradox in which humans are social creatures that need interaction with one another but they also desire to maintain access to their personal world through relationships, territory, and physical space. When individuals lack privacy they become prone to irritability, depression, and other negative emotions (Gifford) (Edney, 1974 ). This problem becomes amplified communities which much share public spaces and homes are diminished in size.

In order to correct this problem, innovative architecture is used to maximize living spaces but also to provide areas such as green spaces in which people can relax and escape from the urban commotion. According to the EPA green space or “Open space provides recreational areas for residents and helps to enhance the beauty and environmental quality of neighborhoods” (EPA, 2015). This concept has become an important part of urban and smart planning. These areas can either be a positive or negative factor regarding psychology. If parks are well kept and clean they can provide a place for people to unwind and relax. This makes these areas beneficial to many residents of cities. However, the opposite may also be true if parks are dirty and not maintained. In New York, in the 80s, Central Park was dirty and overrun with crime (Central Park Conservancy , 2015). The park was becoming a place to be avoided. However, after years of effort and restoration the park is a great green space now and provides a good area for people to relax. Green areas do not just include parks but also zoos and areas for wildlife to flourish. These areas allow people to detach from the busy nature of city living. Again it is important that these areas be properly maintained and built or they can increase stress.

This presents another problem, noise. Noise is a serious issue in modern sustainable communities due to the fact that people are in closer proximity to one another. Noise can take many forms such as workplace, traffic sounds, planes, people talking, children crying, etc.… Noise is a form of pollution because it is unwanted and amplifies the problems of space and territory.

Noise, therefore, can be considered a pollutant, a potential deterrent to normal interactions with one’s environment and a possible source of stress. Thus, strategies to manage such environmental stressors … are necessary to prevent major health problems (Gifford).

Noise has severe impacts on individuals. At the minimum noise is distracting and reduces productivity in the workplace. In a study of children exposed to noise, it was found that reading and long-term memory was impaired (Evans & Johnson). Exposure to noise has also been found to increase risk factors for other health problems such as: heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, musculoskeletal problems, and create poor sleep quality (Evans & Johnson).

In order to deal with noise pollution it is necessary to develop strategies that diminish the volume. For example, constructing buildings with good insulators reduces the amount of space that noise can travel. Another strategy is to utilize sound cancelling materials in workplaces such as carpet and barriers between workstations. There are methods of reducing noise and this can also assist in reducing the issues of loss of territory and personal space in living areas. If people do not hear their neighbors they can be assured of their privacy. More research in the area of noise reduction will likely be necessary as sustainable communities continue to become more necessary.


Central Park Conservancy . (2015). About Us. Retrieved from Central Park Conservancy :

Edney, J. J. (1974 ). Human territoriality. Psychological Bulletin , 81, 959–975.

EPA. (2015). What is Open Space/Green Space. Retrieved from Environmental Protection Agency:

Evans, G. W., & Johnson, D. Stress and open-office noise. Journal of Appied Psychology , 85 (5), 779–783.

Gifford, R. Environmental Psychology: Principles and Practice. Victoria, BC: Optimal Books.

McGunn, L. J. (2013, February 15). Environmental Territoriality and Me. Retrieved from Psychology Today:


Vincent Triola. Tue, Feb 09, 2021. The Effects of Population Density and Noise Retrieved from