Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

A Comparison of Global and Actual Measures of Perceived Crowding of Urban Forest Visitors

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

A Comparison of Global and Actual Measures of Perceived Crowding of Urban Forest Visitors

Article excerpt


Over the last three decades, research on perceived crowding has been a prominent theme of outdoor recreation research. Two types of crowding measures prevail in the literature: The actual measure of perceived crowding combines descriptive information (i.e. observed current use levels) with matching on-site evaluative information (Shelby & Heberlein, 1986; Shelby, Vaske, & Heberlein, 1989), whereas the global measure is an aggregation of crowding perceptions over one larger spatial and/or temporal unit of reporting (Hall & Shelby, 1996; Korea, 1998). Both these survey-based measures of perceived crowding often influence important management decisions such as limiting use (Cole, 2001). Therefore, researchers and managers should be aware of potential differences between the two measures and their causes. So far, no research has investigated the differences between the two measures systematically by comparing these with long-term counting data and analyzing the influences of situational and social factors on the differences between the two measures. Furthermore, most past research has focused on crowding in wilderness or other sparsely used areas, while work in urban settings which are characterized by high shares of repeat users is scarce (Hammitt, 2002; Lee & Graefe, 2003; Westover & Collins, 1987).

Actual Measure of Perceived Crowding

The actual measure of perceived crowding constitutes the classical approach and is typically concerned with use levels or encounter indicators (Shelby & Heberlein, 1986), because empirical studies have documented relationships between actual use levels and associated perceived crowding (Shelby et al., 1989). Several studies showed that the actual feeling of being crowded is also influenced by user characteristics such as visiting motives and frequency of visits, preferences and expectations (Baum & Paulus, 1991; Shelby, Heberlein, Vaske, & Alfano, 1983), visitor behavior and spatial needs (Gramann & Burdge, 1984; West, 1982). Generally, perceptions of crowding tended to be greater among participants who were seeking solitude or escape from social pressures along with a desire for natural surroundings, than among those emphasizing affiliation of social interaction as motives for a recreation outing (Ditton, Fedler, & Graefe, 1983).

Other studies indicated that repeat users of a conservation area reported greater perceived crowding when current use levels exceeded those of the past (Vaske, Donnelly, & Heberlein, 1980; Westover & Collins, 1987). People who are familiar with a particular site are less likely to report crowding, even if their own preferences for social contact were exceeded (Shelby et al., 1983). Situational factors such as the interviewing location have also been observed as influencing actual crowding perceptions (Cole & Stewart, 2002; Ditton et al., 1983; Tarrant, Cordell, & Kibler, 1997). Crowding has also been observed to vary by time, resource availability, accessibility and convenience, and management strategy (Shelby et al., 1989).

Global Measure of Perceived Crowding

Global measures of perceived crowding are based on the individual respondents' aggregation of numerous individual crowding situations over a larger spatial unit and/or time period to one single overall evaluation and one assumes they can recall these past experiences accurately (Stewart & Cole, 1999). The global measure draws on more experience and information compared to the actual measure. However, it forces respondents to aggregate and average over several past discrete experiences. For example, visitors may be asked about their crowding perception of an entire trip lasting several days and are forced to express it with only one crowding evaluation, although use levels might have drastically varied over the course of a trip (Dawson & Watson, 2000; Hall & Shelby, 1996). Many of these studies used post-trip mailback questionnaires, introducing the opportunity for a significant recall bias because of reliance on long-term memory compared to perceptions assessed on-site (Borrie, Roggenbuck, & Hull, 1998; Sudman & Bradburn, 1974; Van Goor & Verhage, 1999). …

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