Reviews by Melissa Smith - Doctoral Student in SDPL

McAfee, J.K. (1987). Classroom density and the aggressive behavior of handicapped children. Education and Treatment of Children, 10, (2).

Through the use of a descriptive study, McAfee examined the effects density may have on handicapped children. From his study he concludes that the physical environment has an influence on learning, behavior, and productivity. The participants were 918 moderately/severely handicapped children who ranged in age from seven to sixteen. Seventy-four percent of the participants were male students. The majority of the sample were mentally retarded, while twenty-seven percent of the participants were behaviorally disordered. These students were observed in classroom settings for thirty-minute periods. The students, as well as teachers initially, were unaware of the purpose of the study. Observers documented aggressive verbal and motor behaviors, as this was the dependent variable. The independent variable was the space each child had to work in the classroom. A correlation between these two variables was calculated. A negative Pearson’s R correlation of -.198 indicated that aggressive behaviors occurred more frequently when less space was available for students to work. An experimental study conducted with similar methods as this descriptive study also demonstrated that handicapped children exhibit aggressive behaviors more frequently under crowded conditions. Although it is realized that many other factors such as classroom management and location of adults can influence behaviors, these studies suggest that overcrowding in a learning environment yields a higher rate of aggressive behaviors in moderately/severely retarded students.


Burgess, J.W. & Fordyce, W.K. (1989). Effects of preschool environments on nonverbal social behavior: Toddlers’ interpersonal distances to teachers and classmates change with environmental density, classroom design, and parent-child interactions. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, (1).

Burgess and Fordyce examined the effects of environmental design on toddlers. The subjects consisted of twelve toddlers ranging in age from 22 to 32 months old. The composition of the group was equally male and female. Five teachers were present during observational periods. The spatial patterns of the toddlers were plotted during scheduled free play in three environments. Children were observed in an open classroom of 76 m squared, an open playground area of 864 m squared, and an additional classroom of 76 m squared with partitions creating an "H" design. This study revealed that when toddlers were given more space, interpersonal distances changed. In the large outdoor area, toddlers separated, creating small groups consisting of two teachers and two classmates, which is consistent with other studies of children in large environments. Spacing patterns did not change in the classroom with partitions when compared to the open classroom. Toddlers maintained similar distances, but seemed to move closer to teachers in the divided classroom. In addition, girls demonstrated more of a preference for other girls as playmates than did boys. This was demonstrated most in the open classroom. The toddlers tended to move away or change location when a teacher or classmate approached them. Through this study, it is apparent that density has an affect on the social distances of toddlers. Interpersonal space increased with an increased environmental space. "Toddlers in an apparently spacious classroom can produce nonverbal behavior changes reminiscent of those found when older children are artificially crowded at high densities." As the researchers indicated, these "apparently spacious" classrooms may not be as spacious as is needed by this age child. The design of the classroom yielded a lesser effect on the toddlers, therefore, this study indicates that toddlers need a larger environment than the class room used in this study.


McAndrew, F.T. Environmental Psychology. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company: Pacific Grove, California 1993.

Chapter Reviews

Chapter 3-The Ambient Environment

Chapter three explores the effects of the ambient environment. Sound, temperature, lighting, color, and odor are all aspects of the ambient environment. These aspects tend to influence mood, emotions, behavior, and learning capabilities of individuals. Human senses allow these factors to cause physical effects.

The affective qualities of an environment determine mood and memories an individual obtains from that environment. Moods are caused by physical, neuro-chemical activity. The text refers to changes in mood caused by the environment as emotional episodes. These episodes can occur even after the individual has been removed from the influencing environment. In addition, mood has been linked to cognitive performance, memory and creativity. Therefore the ambient environment has a great deal of influence on individuals.

Color and sound have distinctive influences on individuals. A bright room with light colors is preferred over a room with dark colors. Such physiological reactions such as respiration rate and blood pressure have been linked to room color. The effects of noise tend to be more controversial. Some believe that the distraction noise causes interferes with learning. Others contribute the interference to feelings of control that individuals desire. The effects of noise on learning can also be linked to sex, age, and academic ability.

Temperature and light are also influential factors of the ambient environment. Temperature tends to influence social behaviors such as aggression, while light, especially natural light, has been shown to enhance the performance of elementary-aged students. This chapter also tells us that fluorescent lights have been linked to increased physical activity in young children.

The ambient environment includes many facets of the physical surroundings. These have each been linked to behaviors in humans, with many focusing on learning environments. With the information provided, learning environments could be better designed to facilitate learning.

Environmental Psychology

Chapter 5 — Personal Space

Personal space is a topic that has been studied for many years and will probably continue to be the focus of many future studies. Personal space is defined by Hayduk and Sommer et al as "the area around a person’s body into which others may not intrude without arousing discomfort." Personal space is a factor in any environment and causes people to react when this space is invaded. Depending on the surrounding environment and individuals, this area of personal space may be larger or smaller.

Chapter 5 identifies several functions of personal space. This space serves as self-protection, allows for adjustments of sensory input, communication, and regulation of intimacy. Personal space changes for different areas of the body. For instance, the personal space around an individuals face area is much smaller than other parts of the body.

Personal space is not only situational, but changes with age, sex, and racial background of the individual. While females use a smaller space when relating to known individuals, males are more sensitive to invasions of personal space. Personal space requirements of children have been shown to increase with age and even out as the child reaches puberty.

Personal space serves many purposes and changes as humans develop. The effects of the lack of personal space will continue to be studied for years to come as we attempt to understand the differences and needs individuals have regarding personal space.


Environmental Psychology

Chapter 9 — Learning Environments

The structure of the learning environment is vital. In addition to the ambient environment, the arrangement and materials used in the environment contribute to the amount of learning that takes place in that environment. The design of the classroom allows for many of these changes, while others are teacher-specific.

Size, size, size. The size of the classroom is probably the leading restricter in schools today. Too often classrooms that were already too small for unique arrangements, are pressed with more students as enrollments increase. With limited space and density issues, teachers are often limited to a traditional classroom arrangement. Even with the traditional arrangement, discipline problems occur due to the density of the classroom. Along with the disruption of discipline, resources in the classroom are in high demand, which in turn yields further disruption as students compete and disagree over materials.

Today’s classrooms require an arrangement of a special style. In order to function in our work force, many individuals must work along side others to achieve a common goal. A classroom designed with group-work in mind is a must. Small, overcrowded classrooms do not allow for such arrangements. Chapter 9 identifies the open classroom as an arrangement that is conducive to student needs, but clearly points out that research indicates traditional classroom students out-perform open classroom students. The benefits of the open classroom include student motivation, improved attendance, and satisfaction. It is my opinion that a mix of traditional large group instruction areas should be mixed with small group and individual areas. Students need to interact with others at certain times.

The learning environment is a special place. What does the perfect learning environment look like? We aren’t sure, but it does seem apparent that we are in need of change. Unfortunately, architects and construction managers don’t consider such research when designing our classrooms and schools. Therefore, teachers are limited to the type of environment they can provide for students to learn.

Environmental Psychology

Chapter 7 — Crowding

Crowding is another area of interest when dealing with the effects of the environment on human behavior. Crowding is a physiological feeling that is a result of density. The text defines density as "an objective measure of the number of people per unit space." Both crowding and density have a direct impact on humans emotionally and behaviorally.

Many studies have been conducted which deal with the effects of crowding on a short-term and long-term basis. Individuals in a crowded, dense environment for a short period of time demonstrate behaviors such as aggression, lower task performance, poor memory, and anxious feelings. Although it has been shown that higher density environments result in an increased amount of aggression, it has also been shown that during competition this was not the case. During competition in a high-density environment, individuals were withdrawn rather than aggressive. Long-term crowding research is in the beginning stages. The effects of long-term crowding on prisoners included high blood pressure, higher death rates, and higher psychiatry needs. In addition to prisoners, college dormitories have been studied. Crowded conditions in dormitories are linked to social withdrawal. There is still much more to learn about the effects of long-term crowding.

Several models were introduced that present theories of crowding. The Ecological Model focuses on having the ideal number of people for an environment to function well. The Overload Model contributes negative effects of crowding to the sensory overload the involved individual experiences. The Density-Intensity Model theorizes that the present reaction is merely intensified by the crowded conditions. The Arousal Model theorizes that the feelings of crowding are caused by the arousal of the situation. Finally, the Control Models link crowded feelings to an individual's need for control in a situation. Each theory attempts to explain this physiological state.