Crowding and personal control: Social density and the development of learned helplessness

Andrew Baum, John R. Aiello, Lisa E. Calesnick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Assessed the utility of a control-based analysis of crowding by examining the relationship between prolonged exposure to architecturally mediated social density and motivational deficits characteristic of learned helplessness. It was predicted that initial recognition of uncontrollable social outcomes would arouse negative interpersonal affect and generate attempts to restore control. Residents of long- and short-corridor-design dormitories, required to live in large and moderate size groups, were surveyed and considered in an experimental session following 1, 3, or 7 wks of residence. Frequent contact with unfamiliar neighbors and visitors in the relatively uncontrolled hallway of the long corridor was seen as generating crowding and difficulty in regulating interpersonal contact. As expectations for control diminished, helpless responding was expected to increase. To test these hypotheses, 60 dormitory residents completed surveys, and 60 participated in an experiment in which they played a Prisoner's Dilemma game that was modified so as to assess helplessness. Data confirm the predictions, indicating that the effects of loss of regulatory control in high-density residential settings were sequential and were mediated by expectations for control. Residents of the long-corridor dormitory, compared with short-corridor residents, were more competitive, reactive, and involved with reestablishing control after 1 and 3 wks of residence. By the end of 7 wks, however, they had become more withdrawn, were less involved, and exhibited symptoms of helplessness. (21 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1000-1011
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jan 1 1978

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • exposure to architecturally mediated social density, motivational deficits characteristic of learned helplessness, dormitory residents

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