Special Brown Bag Seminar By Dr. Oliver Sng on “The Crowded Life is a Slow Life: Population Density and Life History Strategy”

Speaker: Dr. Oliver Sng

Title: The Crowded Life is a Slow Life: Population Density and Life History Strategy

Date: Thursday, 22 June at 10am 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 


The world population has doubled over the last half century. Yet, research on the psychological effects of human population density, once a popular topic, has decreased over the past few decades. Applying a fresh perspective to an old topic, we draw upon life history theory to examine the effects of population density. Across nations and across the U.S. states (Studies 1 and 2), we find that dense populations exhibit behaviors corresponding to a slower life history strategy, including greater future-orientation, greater investment in education, more long-term mating orientation, later marriage age, lower fertility, and greater parental investment. In Study 3, experimentally inducing perceptions of increasing density led individuals to become more future-oriented. Finally, in Studies 4 and 5, manipulating perceptions of increasing density seemed to lead to life-stage-specific slower strategies, with college students preferring to invest in fewer rather than more relationship partners, and an older MTurk sample preferring to invest in fewer rather than more children. This research sheds new insight on the effects of density and its implications for human cultural variation and society at large.


Oliver received his BA in Psychology from the National University of Singapore and his MA/PhD from Arizona State University. His work focuses on two fundamental questions: (1) Why are there psychological differences across human groups? (2) Why do we hold the social stereotypes that we do? Specifically, he explores the intersection between how ecological factors (e.g., population density, pathogen prevalence, resource availability) influence people’s behavior, and how people think ecologies influence the behavior of others. He draws upon a variety of frameworks, including behavioral ecology, life history theory, and affordance management. He appreciates not being asked what he does in his free time. He has none.

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