Personal Space – Run for Safety

Personal Space - Run for Safety

If we don’t want to irritate or threaten people while talking to them face to face we have to keep distance. Everybody knows that. But how big is that distance supposed to be? A new research conducted at the University College of London (UK) characterized a boundary of our personal space also called a safety bubble.

We all have personal space and we do not like it to be interrupted. It came to us from when we lived in the wild making us feel danger and run. We still run, but in the civilized world it looks like simply stepping back. Although we are more refined than our ancient predecessors, we do not like to be caught, framed, or cornered in any way possible. And even if our bodies do not turn on the “fight or flight” reaction, we start feeling uncomfortable. We back up trying to restore our safety bubble.

Until recently, it was believed that personal space diminishes gradually. But new research published in The Journal of Neuroscience discovered an abrupt boundary between a place we don’t feel as our own vs. space that is our own.

Researchers tested a primary defensive reaction — the blinking reflex — on 15 healthy individuals, from 20 to 37 years old, whose fingers were electronically wired. Participants of the experiment were asked to hold their hands at different distances from the face. When an electrical signal was sent to the fingers, researchers concentrated on the blinking reflex.

The closer the distance was to the face – the stronger the blinking reflex appeared to be caused by the feeling of shock and danger. The boundary of the safe personal space was determined as varying from eight to 16 inches from the face depending on the individual. The more anxious participants in the study were — the larger their personal space appeared to be. The safer participants felt — the more their personal space shrank.

New research might have a huge impact in medicine when treating people suffering from high levels of anxiety, panic attacks or claustrophobia. It might be useful in psychology while searching motives of human behavior in crowded spaces.

It can also be applied to our everyday life.

Don’t we all have to be in crowded places from time to time? Didn’t you always want to know why some people come so close to you that you have to take a step back to feel comfortable? Now, at least, we know the safest distance we can talk to people without irritating them.

We can also read signals people send us trying to keep their personal distance. People from western countries, for example, have a tendency to have a larger personal space due to more privacy they can afford since their upbringing. People from the more crowded eastern countries love to stay close to each other. Other factors like culture, nationality, education, social status, level of income or even mood may affect our personal space, as well as our relationship with others.

The more we trust people and love them the closer we will let them come to us, taking them inside our bubble. The smallest personal space is between lovers or family members. Nobody, but a loved one can be taken into that intimate space. So if somebody comes too close to you – they do it on purpose. If you don’t feel all right – ask them to give you more room. Blame it on science. Keep the distance.

By Alsu Salakhutdinov

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