Personal Space

Personal Space

We may not be aware of it, but most of us position ourselves in relation to another person according to our sense of what personal space there should be between us. You may feel happy, for example, sitting very close to a friend but rather uncomfortable sitting close to an older person or your teacher. How much personal space we need varies from culture to culture. North European and American cultures tend to want more personal space than Mediterranean cultures, for example, whereas Arabic cultures tend to want very little space.

Sex differences: Studies show that members of the opposite sex tend naturally to keep a larger distance from each other than members of the same sex.

Age differences: Willis (1966) set out to discover if age influences personal space. He observed around 800 individuals interacting in difference social contexts and noted that individuals of a similar age would stand closer to each other than those who were of a very different age. He was able to conclude that age does make a difference to personal space.

Status differences: Zahn (1991) noted in his research study that those of roughly equal status stood closer to each other than those of a different status. This may indicate that people of a lower status feel some anxiety in approaching people of higher status.

Personality differences: Williams (1971) wanted to know if levels of extroversion would influence personal space. He gave a number of college students personality tests to see how extroverted (outgoing) or introverted (reserved) they were. They then went into an office to collect their college grades from their tutor and Williams observed how close to the tutor they sat as they waited for the results. It was clear than introverts tended to sit further away from their tutor. Knowing this might make an extrovert more aware than their proximity (closeness) can make some people feel uncomfortable.

Limitations These studies only take one factor into consideration; however, there may have been more than one factor involved.