Higher Education

, Volume 74, Issue 1, pp 131–145 | Cite as

The crowd in mind and crowded minds: an experimental investigation of crowding effects on students’ views regarding tuition fees in Germany

  • Jens H. HellmannEmail author
  • Regina Jucks


In higher education, just amounts of tuition fees are often a topic of heated debate among different groups such as students, university teachers, administrative staff, and policymakers. We investigated whether unpleasant situations that students often experience at university due to social crowding can affect students’ views on the justified amount of tuition fees at universities. We report two experiments on whether conditions that lead to experienced crowding in higher education can affect how students cognitively deal with a given topic. Experiment 1 (N = 80) showed that the mere cognitive activation of crowdedness in text stories about situations related to student activities influenced prospective students’ estimates of what are justified university tuition fees. In Experiment 2 (N = 72), student participants wrote an essay on tuition fees in a small versus large room in groups of three versus six persons. Here, results showed that students together with relatively many others in a small room estimated higher tuition fees to be justified than participants in all other experimental conditions. We discuss the implications of the present findings for the configuration of classes in higher education.


Social crowding Proxemics Higher education Opinion formation Tuition fees 



The authors wish to express their gratitude to Marijke H. Adelt and Christina Hanna for their help with data collection. Jens Riehemann and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments to an earlier draft of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

All procedures performed in the studies involving human participants were in accordance with applicable ethical standards, including those specified by the APA (American Psychological Association 2012) or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was provided by all individual participants included in the present research, as specified in the descriptions of the experiments.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychological Association. (2012). Guidelines for ethical conduct of behavioral projects involving human participants by high school students.
  3. Bedard, K., & Kuhn, P. (2008). Where class size really matters: Class size and student ratings of instructor effectiveness. Economics of Education Review, 27, 253–265. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2006.08.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bruins, J., & Barber, A. (2000). Crowding, performance, and affect: A field experiment investigating mediational processes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 1268–1280. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2000.tb02520.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Budd, R. (2016). Undergraduate orientations towards higher education in Germany and England: Problematizing the notion of ‘student as customer’. Higher Education. doi: 10.1007/s10734-015-9977-4.Google Scholar
  6. Cacioppo, J. T., Petty, R. E., & Morris, K. J. (1983). Effects of need for cognition on message evaluation, recall, and persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 805–818. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.45.4.805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Callender, C., & Jackson, J. (2005). Does the fear of debt deter students from higher education? Journal of Social Policy, 34, 509–540. doi: 10.1017/S004727940500913X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, D. E., & Shlechter, T. M. (1979). Library design influences on user behavior and satisfaction. Library Quarterly, 49, 26–41. doi: 10.1086/600899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cohen, S. (1978). Environmental load and the allocation of attention. In A. Baum, J. E. Singer, & S. Valins (Eds.), Advances in environmental psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 1–29). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, S., & Sherrod, D. R. (1978). When density matters: Environmental control as a determinant of crowding effects in laboratory and residential settings. Journal of Population, 1, 189–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eastman, C. M., & Harper, J. (1971). A study of proxemic behavior: Toward a predictive model. Environment and Behavior, 3, 418–437.Google Scholar
  12. Evans, G. W. (1979). Behavioral and physiological consequences of crowding in humans. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 9, 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Evans, G. W., & Lepore, S. J. (1993). Household crowding and social support: A quasiexperimental analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 308–316. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.65.2.308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Garcia, S. M., Weaver, K., Moskowitz, G. B., & Darley, J. M. (2002). Crowded minds: The implicit bystander effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 843–853. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.83.4.843.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gelbrich, K., & Sattler, B. (2014). Anxiety, crowding, and time pressure in public self-service technology acceptance. Journal of Services Marketing, 28, 82–94. doi: 10.1108/JSM-02-2012-0051.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. California: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hellmann, J. H., Adelt, M. H., & Jucks, R. (2016). No space for others? On the increase of students’ self-focus when prodded to think about many others. Journal of Language and Social Psychology. doi: 10.1177/0261927X16629521.Google Scholar
  18. Henderson, M. D., & Wakslak, C. J. (2010). Over the hills and far away: The link between physical distance and abstraction. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 390–394. doi: 10.1177/0963721410390802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hübner, M. (2012). Do tuition fees affect enrollment behavior? Evidence from a ‘natural experiment’ in Germany. Economics of Education Review, 31, 949–960. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2012.06.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jessop, T., Gubby, L., & Smith, A. (2012). Space frontiers for new pedagogies: A tale of constraints and possibilities. Studies in Higher Education, 37, 189–202. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2010.503270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Karay, Y., & Matthes, J. (2016). A study on effects of and stance over tuition fees. GMS Journal of Medical Education. doi: 10.3205/zma001005.Google Scholar
  22. Kokkelenberg, E. C., Dillon, M., & Christy, S. M. (2008). The effects of class size on student grades at a public university. Economics of Education Review, 27, 221–233. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2006.09.011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Maeng, A., & Tanner, R. J. (2013). Construing in a crowd: The effects of social crowding on mental construal. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 1044–1048. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.07.010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Maeng, A., Tanner, R. J., & Soman, D. (2013). Conservative when crowded: Social crowding and consumer choice. Journal of Marketing Research, 50, 739–752. doi: 10.1509/jmr.12.0118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Meyers-Levy, J., & Zhu, R. (2007). The influence of ceiling height: The effect of priming on the type of processing that people use. Journal of Consumer Research, 34, 174–186. doi: 10.1086/519146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Monks, J., & Schmidt, R. (2010). The impact of class size and number of students on outcomes in higher education [Electronic version]. Last retrieved 12 May 2016, from Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations site.
  27. Obama, B. H. [BarackObama] (2012). POTUS: ‘We can decide that in America, no child should have her dreams deferred because of an overcrowded classroom.’ [Tweet]. Retrieved from
  28. Pennell, H., & West, A. (2005). The impact of increased fees on participation in higher education in England. Higher Education Quarterly, 59, 127–137. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2273.2005.00286.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Quast, H., Spangenberg, H., Hannover, B., & Braun, E. (2012). Determinanten der Studierbereitschaft unter besonderer Berücksichtigung von Studiengebühren [Determinants of willingness to study with a special focus on tuition fees]. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft [Journal of Educational Science], 15, 305–326. doi: 10.1007/s11618-012-0276-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stoessel, K., Ihme, A. T., Barbarino, M.-L., Fisseler, B., & Stürmer, S. (2014). Sociodemographic diversity and distance education: Who drops out from academic programs and why? Research in Higher Education, 55, 433–526. doi: 10.1007/s11162-014-9343-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Stokols, D. (1972). On the distinction between density and crowding: Some implications for future research. Psychological Review, 79, 275–277. doi: 10.1037/h0032706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2010). Construal-level theory of psychological distance. Psychological Review, 117, 440–463. doi: 10.1037/a0018963.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124–1131. doi: 10.1126/science.185.4157.1124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Välimaa, J., & Nokkala, T. (2014). The dimensions of social dynamics in comparative studies on higher education. Higher Education, 67, 423–437. doi: 10.1007/s10734-013-9684-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wells, G. L., & Petty, R. E. (1980). The effects of overt head movements on persuasion: Compatibility and incompatibility of responses. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 1, 219–230. doi: 10.1207/s15324834basp0103_2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Westerlund, J. (2008). Class size and student evaluations in Sweden. Education Economics, 16, 19–28. doi: 10.1080/09645290701419532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Xu, J., Shen, H., & Wyer, R. S. (2012). Does the distance between us matter? Influences of physical proximity to others on consumer choice. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 418–423. doi: 10.1016/j.jcps.2011.06.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Sport StudiesUniversity of MünsterMünsterGermany

Personalised recommendations