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Environment and Social Interaction

Miles L. Patterson

Subject Psychology
Communication Studies » Interpersonal Communication

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Every face-to-face interaction occurs in a specific location. Although it is typically assumed that the course of particular interactions is a product of the individuals involved and their relationships to one another, the surrounding environment has important effects at both the macro- and micro-levels. Where people live has an important effect on social behavior. For example, urban dwellers are less likely to initiate eye contact with passing strangers than are suburbanites or small-town residents ( Newman & McCauley 1977 ). More importantly, helping behavior also decreases as population density increases from small to large cities ( Levine et al. 1994 ). One explanation for the decreased sensitivity to others in large urban areas is social overload (→  Proxemics ). That is, because urban dwellers are consistently overstimulated by the presence of large numbers of people, they adapt by automatically filtering out less important events ( Milgram 1970 ). Sensitivity to others is affected by more than just population density. Levine et al. (1994) found that, in the United States, the incidence of helping strangers was greater in the south and mid-west than in the northeast and west. Historical and technological changes have also contributed to decreased sensitivity to strangers, and even neighbors, in both low- and high-density situations. Sixty years ago, prior to the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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