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Personal space, an updated form of Edward T. Hall's 1966 proxemics, is the region surrounding each person, or that area which a person considers their domain or territory. Often if entered by another being without this being desired, it makes them feel uncomfortable. The amount of space a being (person, plant, animal) needs falls into two categories, immediate individual physical space (determined by imagined boundaries), and the space an individual considers theirs to live in (often called habitat). These are dependent on many things, such as growth needs, habits, courtships, etc. Hall's spacing models, to note, were themselves based on Heini Hediger's 1955 psychological studies of zoo animals.
What distance is appropriate for a particular social situation depends on culture. It is also a matter of personal preference. People may feel uncomfortable if the distance is too large (cold) or too small (intrusive). It may be due to the limited available space, different cultural standards, physical intimacy, interpersonal relationships, or some form of rudeness. Permission is often expected if the intrusion is unexpected. Many customsare centered around just this particular issue.
Personal space is highly variable. Those who live in a densely populated environment tend to have smaller personal space requirements. Thus a resident of India may have a smaller personal space than someone who is home on the Mongolian steppe, both in regard to home and individual.
It can be determined on a habitat level by profession, livelihood, and occupation. Personal space can also be heavily affected by a person's position in society, with the more affluent a person being the larger personal space they demand. See also ethnic stereotype. While it is highly variable and difficult to measure accurately the best estimates for personal physical space place it at about 24.5 inches (60 centimeters) on either side, 27.5 inches (70 centimeters) in front and 15.75 inches (40 centimeters) behind for an average westerner.
In certain circumstances people can accept having their personal space violated. For instance in romantic encounters the stress from allowing closer personal space distances can be reinterpreted into emotional fervour. Another method of dealing with violated personal space, according to psychologist Robert Sommer, is dehumanization. He argues that, for instance on the subway, crowded people imagine those infiltrating their personal space as inanimate.
Attitudes of people regarding someone else entering their personal space may depend on the sex of both people. Some train cars are women-only, to allow women to avoid men entering their personal space, providing privacy, and safety from the possibility of being groped. Changing perceptions about personal space and the fluctuating boundaries of public and private in European culture since the Roman Empire have been explored in A History of Private Life, under the general editorship of Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, published in English by the Belknap Press.
A person's comfort zoneis highly variable and difficult to measure accurately: the estimates place it at about 24.5 inches (60 centimeters) on either side, 27.5 inches (70 centimeters) in front and 15.75 inches (40 centimeters) behind for an average westerner.
Personal space is highly variable. One factor in the general population density of a society with those living in a densely populated places tending to have a smaller personal space. Residents of India tend to have a smaller personal space than those in the Mongolian steppe, both in regard to home and individual. For a more detailed example, see Body contact and personal space in the United States.
Personal space has changed historically together with the boundaries of public and private in European culture since the Roman Empire. This topic have been explored in A History of Private Life, under the general editorship of Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, published in English by the Belknap Press.
Personal space is also affected by a person's position in society with more affluent individuals demanding a larger personal space.
People make exceptions to, and modify their space requirements. For instance in romantic encounters the stress from allowing closer personal space distances can be reinterpreted into emotional fervor. In addition, a number of relationships may allow for personal space to be modified and these include familial ties, romantic partners, friendships and close acquaintances where a greater degree of trust and knowledge of a person allows personal space to be modified.
According to the psychologist Robert Sommer a method of dealing with violated personal space is dehumanization. He argues that (for example) on the subway, crowded people often imagine those intruding on their personal space as inanimate. Behavior is another method: a person from India attempting to talk to someone from Britain can often cause situations where one person steps forward to enter what they perceive as a conversational distance, and the person they are talking can step back to restore their personal space.
Neuropsychology describes personal space in terms of kinds of 'near-ness' to the body.
- Extrapersonal Space: The space that occurs outside the reach of an individual.
- Peripersonal Space: The space within reach of any limb of an individual. Thus to be 'within-arm's length' is to be within one's peripersonal space.
- Pericutaneous Space: The space just outside our bodies but which might be near to touching it. Visual-tactile perceptive fields overlap in processing this space so that for example, an individual might see a feather as not touching themselves but still feel when it hovers just about their hand the inklings of being tickled.
Research links the amygdala with emotional reactions to proximity to other people. First, it is activated by such proximity, and second, in those with complete bilateral damage to their amygdala lack a sense of personal space boundary. As the researchers have noted: "Our findings suggest that the amygdala may mediate the repulsive force that helps to maintain a minimum distance between people. Further, our findings are consistent with those in monkeys with bilateral amygdala lesions, who stay within closer proximity to other monkeys or people, an effect we suggest arises from the absence of strong emotional responses to personal space violation."
- Boundaries (psychological)
- Flight zone
- Physical contact
- Social behavior
- Social density
- Spatial empathy
References & Bibliography
- Hall, Edward T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension, Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-08476-5.
- Hediger, Heini (1955). The Psychology and Behavior of Animals in Zoos and Circuses, Dover Publications. SBN 486622185.
- Elias, L.J., M.S., Saucier, (2006) Neuropsychology: Clinical and Experimental Foundations. Boston; MA. Pearson Education Inc.ISBN:0-205-34361-9
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