By Anju Miura

Living in a dorm can be daunting. Students who may not value cleanliness the same way are forced to share communal spaces and neat-freaks might feel like they can never escape from messy bathrooms and loud roommates or neighbors.

It is a lack of morality to use common areas disrespectfully, but there might be some psychological issues behind their behaviors.


We create territories

Territoriality is a relatively fixed geographical area that is often visibly marked out through personal belongings to establish ownership of boundaries.

Decorating a dorm room is an example that we make our territory by placing posters, incense or string lights.


Different kinds of territory

Primary territory refers to private areas owned by individuals such as a house or individual room.

Common bathrooms and desks in a classroom are considered as secondary territory: an area used regularly but shared with others.


Psychological ownership

Although we don’t actually own places that are categorized as secondary territory, we sometimes develop ownership of them.

For example, you may always sit in the same seat in a classroom and may feel your seat is “stolen” if someone takes the seat.

Spending time and energy on something can bring greater feelings of ownership. As the semester goes, we become more attached to the same spot in the classroom.

Same goes for dorm bathrooms. Some students may feel ownership of the bathroom stall that they use. They get more upset when there is hair all over the bathroom floor within that stall.


The fight for territory

Conflict arises when we have different definitions of territory and ownership.

On the one hand, those who use the dorm bathrooms disrespectfully or listen to loud music may not even realize that their behaviors affect other residents.

They may consider dorm bathrooms or the building itself is a part of their territory and start “marking” the area as if they are in their own room.

On the other hand, other students are disgusted by the bathroom and noise issues because they feel their territory is invaded.

For them, loud music is an intruder in their room where they have developed psychological ownership. In other words, we all attempt to protect our territory by limiting other’s behavior which invades our own territory.

We can neither control other residents’ behaviors nor change their minds. However, we can be less stressed by understanding why others act in different ways when we have dorm life issues.