Don't Stand So Close To Me! An Investigation into Personal Space *
AbstractHow do you feel when a friend comes too close to you? How far away or close do you think is necessary to have a conversation with someone? The answers to these questions are dependent upon the size of your personal space. Some people like to be within a foot of each other when having a conversation and others feel that being 3 feet apart is still just a little too close for comfort.
Personal space is defined as the protective area surrounding a person's body (not necessarily spherical in size) that the person regards as psychologically his or hers. Invasion of personal space can lead to discomfort, anger, or anxiety. In the animal kingdom, personal space differs from territory in that it is mobile. We take our personal space wherever we go. Another difference is that territory boundaries are fixed, whereas personal space has dynamic boundaries, dependent upon the situation. When person 1 enters person 2's personal space, person 2 will usually get very uncomfortable and withdraw from the vicinity. As someone gets closer to us, we pick up on cues that give us information about that person. For example, as someone gets closer, we pick up on thermal, olfactory, and facial cues. Some of these cues might signal that we should get away from that person immediately!
There are many different questions you can ask about personal space. For example, at what age do humans start to develop their personal space? When do we start to learn socially acceptable behavior when interacting with other people? Does the size of a person's personal space depend upon his or her gender? Are personal space boundaries equal in all directions? Does it matter if someone walks straight toward us or sidles up next to us? Are there different personal space zones? How does culture affect personal space? If these questions interest you and you are not too afraid to get close, then you ought to attempt this science project! To get some ideas on how to set up personal space testing, check out the references in the Bibliography.
Michelle Maranowski, PhD, Science Buddies
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Last edit date: 2017-07-28
- Aiello, J. and Aiello T.D. (1974). The Development of Personal Space: Proxemic Behavior of Children 6 Through 16. Human Ecology. Vol. 2, No. 3, 177-189.
- Kincher, Jonni. Psychology for Kids II: 40 Fun Experiments That Help You Learn About Others. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing Inc., 1995.
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