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Chicago, Ill. (AP)-- A report from a study conducted by the University of Chicago was released here on Thursday and already a stir is resulting in sociologic and financial circles.

The study, conducted in Peoria on a random sample of people from its suburban communities, was designed to measure the effects of an untended lawn on its homeowners. Fifty of the participants in the study were each given $500 if they were willing to refrain from mowing or otherwise tending their lawns for a three month period during the summer of 1994. The psychological effects of this lack of lawn tending were then compared to the psychological traits of a control group who were allowed to maintain their lawns as they wished. Perhaps not surprisingly, those not allowed to maintain their lawns experienced many symptoms of psychological abnormality, including depression, suicidal tendencies, child abuse and other forms of violence, anorexia, bulimia, societal withdrawal, and poor sexual function, as well as such physical symptoms as increased ulcer formation and blood pressure, and more susceptibility to cancer.

The study was not an easy one to arrange. Chief psychologist of the study, Robert Smeldagas, Ph.D. of the University of Chicago explains, "First we had to get a waiver from the lawn enforcement branch of the Peoria police department. Normally, untended lawns result in heavy fines, imprisonment, or both, for the owner. [The police] weren't eager to arrange the waiver until we loaned them a large U. of Chicago-owned gymnasium for their annual policemens' ball." There were other issues that had to be dealt with. Assistant Prof. of Psychology Peter Kutzhürt had this to say, "A week into the study, we were flooded by phone calls from irate neighbors of participants; these neighbors were themselves facing psychological discomfort from the sight of the participants' lawns. Unable to get satisfaction from the cops, they chose to call us, sometimes very early in the morning." Then there were challenges to the actual study itself by second thoughts among its participants. Says Smeldagas, "Only 50% of the original participants remained in the study to the end. They just couldn't take the strain that long grass put upon their lives."

The study found that there is a strong psychological need among suburbanites to mow their grass. Those who could not mow their grass faced a 600% greater rate of divorce then the control group, as well as these other shocking statistics:

  • 510% greater risk of ulcers

  • 360% greater risk of lethal heart attack

  • 790% greater risk of arrest from drunk driving

  • 200% greater risk of arrest for spousal and/or child abuse

  • 80% greater risk of cancer

  • 20% faster rate of weight gain

  • 90% greater risk of suicide

The study had originally been planned to run for four months, but since ten of the participants had died during the first three months, it was determined that the study should end prematurely. "It would have been unethical to continue with a study that was proving so thoroughly lethal," says Walter Kleinblatt, Ph.D. of the University of Chicago's Medical Ethics department.

One of the corporations helping to provide funding for the study, Snapper Lawn Machines, Inc., experienced a 30% increase in its stock price after the release of the results. Snapper President Jimmy Hasharamawt was jubilant, "This study proves that our products are as essential to the health of the average American as a good diet or quitting smoking. Our next advertising campaign will try to make more Americans aware of the implications this study have on family stability and health." Ortho Vice-President, Peter Inyirash, was also pleased by the results, claiming, "For years environmental extremists have tried to link our products to poor health. This study confirms that our products help the average American live a longer, not shorter, life."

Sociologists around the country are rushing to explain the results of the University of Chicago study. Herman Jones, Ph.D., head professor of the UCLA-Santa Cruz Sociology Department sees this study as just a tiny glimpse of the overall picture of American Society. He explains, "For years advertisers have found that it is a successful marketing strategy to set neighbor against neighbor in terms of factors such as car and house size, lawn tidiness, clothing, etc. I often felt that it was necessary for lawn care product merchandisers to better advertise and enumerate the reasons why a lawn should look a certain way and not all the other ways that it could. This study provides a basis for advertisers. Now they can honestly claim that short grass and the absence of dandelions isn't just æsthetic. It's as essential as normal blood pressure. Similar studies will probably show that shiny new cars parked in the front yard lead to better health among the people who own them. Thus Lexus will be able to claim that their products are not just status symbols, but conducive to longer life and true happiness."

Already the results of this study are causing Sociologists to rethink history and ethnic differences. Says Marvin Horkington, Ph.D. of the University of Iowa, "Now we know that short grass is essential to health, something about which we were never fully aware. We now have to find how Neanderthal and Cro Magnon man maintained their grass using only the simple technology available to them. Perhaps studies should be done in countries where grass does not normally grow to see how cultivating short grass adjacent to dwellings improves the health of native peoples. Exporting lawn care to the Third World may well finally result in life expectancies there being more like those in the Industrial World."

Robert Smeldagas is now working on a study to document the psychological effects on homeowners of disconnecting satellite dishes from televisions in the rural Appalachians.

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