Most students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria have a hard time procuring adequate accommodation. Hence, they are usually left with the option of having to share a room with many people resulting in over-crowded hostels. This study sought to examine the effect of overcrowding, age and gender on the state anxiety levels of undergraduates in a Nigerian public university. 192 participants were selected from male and female students residing in the hostels and off-campus with age range of 16 - 30 (mean age = 22.80; SD = 2.70). Average person per room was used to determine how crowded the room was and the State Trait Anxiety Inventory form Y - 1 (STAI - Y1) was administered on the participants. A three-way ANOVA showed a non significant interaction effect between overcrowding, age and gender on the manifestation of anxiety among university undergraduates, F(2, 180) = 2.22, p = 0.11. The result also revealed a significant main effect of gender on the manifestation of state anxiety among undergraduates, F(1, 180) = 18.212, p = 0.00, where males manifested more anxiety than female undergraduates. There was also a significant interaction effect of overcrowding and gender F(1, 180) = 5.67, p = 0.02. It was concluded that university undergraduates should be provided with adequate accommodation in higher institutions they attend in order to reduce overcrowding and state anxiety among undergraduates. KEY WORDS: Anxiety, Overcrowding, Undergraduates, Nigeria.

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Publication: Ife Psychologia
Author: Ndom, Roy J E
Date published: March 1, 2012


Crowding, which occur when the number of people violates individual distance and the way in which we perceive the situation" (Ozioko, 1997: 14), has been found by scholars to cause increase in crime rate (Ozioko, 1997), diminish quality and quantity of teaching (Iyaiye, 1999) and in children, may be associated with the development of anxiety in later life (Daniel, Pietersen, Cartstens, Daya 8c Stein, 2000).

Crowding, which does not necessarily mean increase in the amount of people, has been distinguished from high density of people by Paulus (1980) who noted that while high density deals with large number of individuals per unit space, it does not necessarily produce the negative effect of crowding which is psychological. Drawing a line between crowding and high density has been a major challenge with studies in crowding. This is because, there might be high density but not the feeling or perception of being crowded in a place for instance at a lively party or a football match. Hence, it could be concluded that crowding is a psychological phenomenon that arises from physical or situational feeling of high density. This is almost in line with the position of Freedman (1975) who argued that crowding could be referred to as the physical state of not having much space rather than to the internal sate. Freedman's position however failed to take into account the individual that is having the feeling of crowding. This brings the relative nature of the concept of crowding to the fore, making the individual's experience to be the determining factor of whether he/she is being physically or psychologically crowded.

The individual's feeling brings in the perspective of expectation in the feeling of being crowded. In examining the role of expectation, Baum and Greenberg (1975) found that when people wait for a crowd that is, know about human density before hand, it reduces their feeling of being crowded. The converse is the case when people do not know what to expect in terms of crowding, they feel more crowded. This fact elucidates the density-intensity theory of crowding by Freedman (1975) which points out that that as density increases, people's mood and behaviors increases. This does not mean that crowding predicts or causes any behavior but enhances the present behavior prevalent in a place.

This crowding-behavior link has been supported by studies with animals. For instance, Gilmer (1975) has shown that increase in the population of rats led to neurosis another study which concurs with this result is the study by Calhoun (1962) who also used rats to show that crowding made the animals sink behaviorally and manifest behaviors ranging from neglect of young ones, aggression, abortion and so forth. Among human beings, Schmitt (1996) has found a link between increase in population density and crime rate, death rate and mental disorder. There is also an association between maternal household crowding during pregnancy and schizophrenia risk in the offspring (Kimhy, Harlap, Fennig, Deutsch, Draiman, Corcoran, Goetz, Nahon 8c Malaspinna, 2006). An interesting link has also been established between overcrowding and communicable diseases like cholera (Osei 8c Duker, 2008) and also between overcrowding and diarrhea and cough (Monasta, Anderson, Ledogar, Ledogar & Cockroft, 2008). This points to the fact that overcrowding leads to psychopathologies.

Epidemiological literature suggests that one of the most prevalent psychopathology in the general population is anxiety (Lepine, 2002). Data by the National Institute of Mental health (NIMH, 2010) in the United States of America indicates that 28.8% of US adult population will experience anxiety in their lifetime while 18.1% will manifest 12month prevalence within which 4.1% will manifest severe anxiety. With regards to age, 30.2% of US adult population between age 18-29 will likely experience anxiety in their lifetime. There presently is a dearth of data in the area of mental health research in Nigeria. However, with the US data of young people's lifetime prevalence of anxiety, it could be speculated that the prevalence rate is also high among young adults.

Recently, it has been found that there are some people who are particularly sensitive to anxiety (Mantar, Yemez 8c Alkin, 2011). According to Mantar et al's study, some people believe that anxiety arousal can have harmful consequences and this sensitivity caused by their belief system is a risk factor for the manifestation of anxiety disorders. Lindert, Brahler, Wittig, Mielck and Priebe (2008), after reviewing 37 studies found a prevalent rate of between 6% and 44% prevalent rate of anxiety among labour migrants and between 5% and 90% among refugees. This shows that anxiety does not only manifest in university students but in other population as well. However, the fact that these other population stay also in camps which are akin to hostels opens up a new aspect of tentative investigations for researchers to investigate whether this feeling of anxiety is caused by the encroachment on the individual personal space or how the physical structure is constructed.

Among the factors responsible for high level of anxiety among university students is overcrowding. This was found by Ozen, Ercan, Irquil and Siqirli (2010) who noted that that boarding conditions, having chronic disease and exam periods predicted state anxiety among university students in Turkey. Ozen et al further indicted family relationships and difficulty adapting to university life as reasons why students manifest anxiety. These students in Ozen et al's study manifested both state and trait anxiety.

There are other factors, apart from crowding, which have been indicted by researchers in increasing anxiety levels of university students. For instance, students who struggle financially and otherwise are predisposed to mental health problems (Eisenberg, Gollust, Golberstein, 8c Hefner, 2007) also; undergraduate student's level of education and their course of study have been found to be precipitating factors for the manifestation of anxiety. Inam, Saquib, Alam, (2003) found that Pakistani medical students who are in their first and second year manifest more anxiety and depression than students in third and fourth year. This could be as a result of the tasking nature of the medical sciences and also the based on the high expectation placed on the students by their family, peers and institution. This high level of anxiety is not however peculiar to medical students alone but with the general population of students. In Turkey, Bayram 8c Bilgel (2008) found a high level of depression, anxiety and stress symptoms among university students with students at the lower levels of year one and two manifesting more of these psych opathologies than other level of students. This finding suggests other variables to predict psychopathology among lower level university undergraduates apart from the stringent and tasking nature of their disciplines like medicine. High rates of anxiety have also been found among Iranian university students (Larijani, Aghajani, Baheiraei, 8c Neiestanak, 2010) and among Japanese university students (Liu, Shono 8c Kitamura, 2009).

In Nigeria, apart from the study by Iyaiye (1999) which focused on crowded classroom, there has presently been no study, to our knowledge, which addresses the issue of overcrowding, age and gender in the manifestation of state anxiety among university students. Clausson - Kass, Dzikus, Stephens, Hojlyng and Aaby (1996: 351) has pointed out that studies on crowding are usually conducted at two levels viz: 1. Household level which is measured in person per area of living space and, 2. Area level which is measured in people by area of land. In the present study, crowding will be studied based on the first level that is, in terms of the total number of students in an area of living space. Hence, we hypothesize that there would be no significant gender difference in the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduate university students. Also, it is hypothesized that there would be no significant effect of overcrowding on the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduate university student. There would also be no significant effect of age in the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduate university students. Finally there would be no significant interaction effect of overcrowding, age and gender in the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduate university students.


Settings and Participants

Participants for this study were 200 university undergraduates living in the hostel and those living outside the university. Four groups of participants were randomly selected into four categories male hostel students, male off-campus students, female hostel students and female off-campus students. 50 participants were selected from each of these categories making a total of 200 participants. The participants were between ages 16 - 30 with mean age of 22.80 and standard deviation of 2.70. The mean overcrowding rate was 5 students per room and number of students per room ranged between 1 student per room to 13 students per room. Those who reported being between 1-4 students per room were 94 (49%) while 98 (51.0%) reported being between 5-13 per room. An average of two students per room were reported by students living off campus both in by the males and females while their counterparts living in hostels reported an average of 8 students per room in the male and female hostels.

One of the researchers with the assistance of two female research assistants explained the procedure to the participant and written informed consent were obtained from them after which they responded to a three part questionnaire. Part 1 focused on the socio-demographic variable, part 2, which contained a set of 5 questions aimed at teasing out the feeling of the undergraduate students with regards to overcrowding and part 3, the form Y -1 of the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI - Y1). A total of 200 questionnaires were randomly administered to the participants in an odd and even simple random sampling technique. Out of the 200 questionnaires administered, 192 of the questionnaires were correctly filled and used for this study (participation rate: 96.5%).


State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI - Y1)

The scale used for this study is the State Trait Anxiety Inventory form Y-I (STAI Y-I) developed by Spielberger in 1983 to measure specific or situational anxiety better known as state anxiety. The STAI Y-1 is the first of the Y versions of STAI while the second is the Y-2. The STAI Y-I measures state anxiety and the STAI Y-2 measures trait anxiety. The STAI - Yl has four response options viz: not at all, somewhat, moderately so, very much so which corresponds to 1,2, 3, and 4 respectively. While STAI Y-2 form measures an individual's relatively predisposition to being anxious, the Y-I version measures momentary or situation - specific emotion of anxiety. STAI Y - 1 is administered individually or in groups and has 10 direct items and 10 reverse score items. The reliability of the Y-I form of STAI was established by Omoluabi in 1987. Omoluabi reported a test - retest reliability coefficient of 0.61 and a concurrent validity coefficient of 0.69 between the STAI Y-I form and the Multiple Adjective Checklist (MAACL) today developed by Zuckerman and Lubin (1965). The Nigerian norm for the STAI Y-I form is 35.72 according to Omoluabi (1987). The demographic variables were measured using characteristics like age, gender, level of education, place of residence etc. The crowding aspect was measured with questions like "how many occupants (you inclusive) live in your room?" etc.


The questionnaires were administered to the students in their hostels and in their off campus residences. One of the researchers went to the male hostels and male off campus residences and two female research assistants, who were taught the research procedure, went to the female hostels and the female off campus residences. They introduced themselves and the purpose of the study and subsequently administered the questionnaires using a simple random sampling method of odd and even technique by administering to only the even numbered student in every even numbered room. The questionnaires were immediately responded to and returned to the researcher. The participant's residences were used so as to ensure that the instrument captured anxiety as a result of the state of crowding rather than anxiety from other external circumstances or variables.


This study applied a cross - sectional survey design method. The data was analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 15.0. Three -way analysis of variance was used to analyze the data.


Table 1 shows that undergraduate students who are between 1-4 persons living in one room showed lower level of anxiety manifestation (M = 38.59, SD = 8.51) while those between 5-13 manifested higher levels of anxiety (M = 53.12, SD = 7.65). Also, undergraduate students between the ages of 21 - 24 reported the highest rate of anxiety (M = 47.24, SD = 10.77), while those between ages 25 - 30 (M = 44.87, SD = 11.14) manifested the lowest rate of anxiety. Interestingly, males manifested a higher rate of anxiety (M = 48.34, SD =11.44) while females manifested a lower rate of anxiety (M = 43.53, SD = 9.66).

Table 2 shows that undergraduate students' overcrowding level had a significant main effect on the manifestation of anxiety F(1, 180) = 159.63, p = .00; age had no significant main effect on their manifestation of anxiety, F(2, 180) = 2.845, p = .06; There was also a significant main effect of gender on anxiety F(1, 180) = 18.212, p = .00. However, there was no significant interaction effect of overcrowding and age F(2, 180) = .34, p = .71; and between overcrowding and gender F(2, 180) = .11, p = .90. Interestingly, there was a significant interaction effect of overcrowding and gender F(1, 180) = 5.67, p = .02. There was no significant effect of overcrowding, age and gender on the manifestation of state anxiety among undergraduates F(2, 180) = 2.22, p = .11. The effect size (Eta squared) for this study ranged from small to large viz: .092 for gender, .031 for age to .470 for overcrowding. This means that 9.2%, 3.1% and 47% of the variation in the level of anxiety can be predicted or accounted for by gender, age, and overcrowding respectively. Figure 1 below graphically illustrates the interaction effect of gender and age on anxiety.


The results of this study show that there is a significant gender difference in the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduate university students thereby refuting the first hypothesis. The second hypothesis was also refuted since there was a significant effect of overcrowding on the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduate university students. Age did not have a significant effect on the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduate university students hence, the third hypothesis was retained also, the fourth hypothesis was retained since there was found to be no significant interaction effect of overcrowding, age and gender in the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduate university students.

Although age did not show a significant main effect on the manifestation of anxiety among undergraduates, it is important to note that students between the ages of 2 1 - 24 manifested a higher mean level of anxiety than those below and above them in age. This could mean that those below this age group might be too new to the university system to manifest and experience high level of anxiety while those above them may have overgrown the manifestation of anxiety since they may have developed buffers against experiencing anxiety.

With regards to undergraduate students used in this study, the high anxiety level as a result of overcrowding suggests that they have feelings of frustration which arises from the fact that limited space would be shared by many people. However, the findings of this study is in contrast with a study conducted in a Hong Kong university by Jones, Dean and Lo (2002), where female students were found to manifest more anxiety than male students. The major improvise in interpreting the finding of the present study with regards to Jones et al's is that Jones et al made their findings with the STAI - Y2 form which measures trait anxiety whereas, the present study applied STAI - Yl form which measures state anxiety. Another contrasting finding is that by Loo (1972) who found that men react positively to crowding while women do not. This finding can however, be said to apply to the present finding if positive reaction is in terms of physically adapting but psychologically reacting to crowding.

Our finding is also in consonance with the findings of Freedman (1975) who reported that males experience higher levels of stress and anxiety in high density situations. Freedman further notedt that when a room is high in human density, females reacted positively toward others while males tend to react negatively. Although from the data, both gender have the same average number of person per room in both hostel accommodation and off campus accommodation, the higher anxiety manifestation of males could be as a result of their multiple roles and possibly poor economic conditions. These of course places pressure on the males. Another probable reason is that the social support which females have is not readily available to their male counterparts.

Interestingly, overcrowding is not particularly a problem experienced by students alone, those in hospital setting experience it also. For instance, Derlet, Tichard 8c Kravitz (2001) reported that out of 575 emergency department directors surveyed in their study, 525 (91%) reported overcrowding as a problem. Their study pointed out that overcrowding was not particularly an urban problem. It was a rural challenge also. All of the academic, county and private hospital emergency departments surveyed, overcrowding appeared to be a significant problem.

Although this study did not investigate the effect of crowding on learning, it is important to note that a previous researcher have found that crowding reduces social interaction and learning (Iyaiye, 1999) hence recommendation is being made for government to increase their investment level in institutions of higher learning in order for these institutions to have conducive environments for their student. Also, it is important that in such buildings when they are being designed, the issue of privacy and personal space should be taken into consideration to ensure that students have enough space to live in. recreational spots and social centers should be factored into such building so that student will be able to have a place to relax whenever they feel crowded.

The result of this study brings to the fore the uncomfortable hostels that students in Nigeria stay in. From the data gathered, there were rooms which had as much as thirteen students in it. This of course would make them anxious and uncomfortable. Findings from scholars like Gilmer (1975) who noted that under crowded conditions, individuals isolate themselves psychologically from the social environment should be used as a starting point in examining other psychopathologies that could be manifested by these undergraduate students in reaction to overcrowding. Hence, it is also recommended that universities should admit only the number of students that it can comfortably provide accommodation for while other studies should focus on other psychological indices like anxiety sensitivity, coping mechanisms and depression levels of these students.


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Author affiliation:


1 Department of Behavioural Sciences, University of llorin

2 Psychology Department, Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria.

3 Psychology Department, Nasarawa State University, Keffi.

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