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The utilization of space in an isotropic environment : a predictive model of beach user behaviour Evans, Laurence Kenneth

Abstract

A public beach served as the site for a study of the impact of increasing density on human spatial behaviour. This setting provided a unique environment where the range of observed densities was wide, user behaviour could be monitored unobtrusively, and where effects due to the social and physical environment were not confounded. The specific goals of the research were: 1) to test the hypothesis that beach users require a minimum amount of intergroup space and that such distances will be related to proper social functioning (cf. Edward T. Hall's proxemic zones), 2) demonstrate a relationship between the overall spatial pattern of beach users and density, and 3) relate individual personality dispositions, mood states and socio/demographic differences to observed respondent spatial behaviour. Aerial photography was used to gather data concerning the spatial distribution of 1791 groups located on three public beaches or sunning areas. Coincidental psycho/demographic data were obtained by means of a paper and pencil survey for a subsample of 266 subjects located on the beaches during the 27 photographic sampling runs completed. A Monte Carlo simulation technique coupled with a 'distance to nearest neighbour' model were used to analyse the spatial pattern of beach users over the range of densities observed. Results indicate that at densities less than 110 groups/hectare the observed spatial pattern does not differ significantly from random. At higher densities however, users tend to maximize the distance to near neighbours which results in a pattern statistically described as uniform. The average distance separating groups at densities greater than 110 groups/hectare approached a constant at 2.7 meters. This latter observation plus Hall's claim that such distances may be utilized to effectively screen or insulate persons from unwanted social interaction suggests that beach users adapt to increasing density by obtaining just enough space to maintain the social integrity of the group. Survey results using groups produced few significant correlations and stepwise regression analysis indicated characteristically low predictability of target spatial variables. Analysis of response patterns of lone individuals however, produced a substantial increase in the ability of selected independent variables to account for variance in dependent variables. For example, respondent nearest neighbour distance was predicted moderately well by six independent variables (R² = .47). Similarly, eight variables accounted for 57% of the variance in the dependent variable which measured the amount of space demarcated by a respondent's personal possessions. These results suggest that at lower densities beach users may choose sites in relation to other "users which reflect individual preferences and since preferences are varied a random spatial pattern is observed. However, as space becomes limiting at higher densities such needs and desires may remain unfulfilled. Finally, based on the above results maximum 'psychological carrying capacity' estimates were calculated and the implications for the planning and design professions discussed.

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