Saturday, February 24, 2007


In their book, “The Definitive Book of Body Language”, authors Alan Pease and Barbara Pease cite the studies done, in the 1960s, by American anthropologist, Edward Hall, on spatial needs of human beings.

Like most animals, each human has his/her own personal space or ‘air bubble’, which he/she carries around with him/her, as if it were an extension of his/her body. When this ‘personal’ space is invaded, people get nervous or aggressive. How much space each person marks out is dependent on the density of the population of the place in which he/she grew up. Personal space is thus culturally determined.

The radius of the air-bubble can vary from country to country, but, in general, can be broken down into four distinct zone distances.

1.Intimate Zone: This is between 6 and 18 inches (15-45cm), where only those who are emotionally close are permitted to enter. These include lovers, parents, spouse, children, and pets.

2.The Personal Space between 18 inches and 48 inches (46 cm- 1.22m). This is the distance we stand from others at cocktail parties, office parties, social functions and friendly gatherings.

3.The Social Zone between 4 and 12 feet (1.22-3.6m). We stand at this distance from strangers, plumber or carpenter doing repairs around our house, postman, the local shopkeeper and people we don’t know very well.

4.The Public Zone is over 12 feet (3.6m). Whenever we address a large group of people, this is the comfortable distance at which we choose to stand.

All these distances tend to increase between two men and reduce between two women. While we tolerate strangers entering our Personal and Social Zones, the intrusion of strangers into our intimate zone causes physiological changes to take place within our bodies. The heart pumps faster, adrenaline is pumped into our bloodstream and blood into our brain as we get ready for a fight or flight situation.

Crowding at concerts, cinema halls, in trains and packed elevators result in unavoidable intrusion into other people’s intimate zones. That is why people taking the elevator avoid eye contact with others, maintain a poker face and keep watching the floor number indicator in a behaviour that is called ‘masking’

Amazing stuff. No, not the insight into human behaviour, but the fact that the Halls and the Peases had the patience to follow people everywhere and gallivant around with a measuring tape in cinemas, cocktail parties, social functions, elevators and when carpenters, plumbers visited different houses, and whenever lovers met, to physically measure the distance between them and include the dimensions in both inches and metres in their final report.

Get a life, Alan Pease. Same with you, Barbara Pease. Get yourselves de-addicted to the tape. You will have withdrawal symptoms initially, but you can do it, if you have the will power. If Linus Van Pelt could be forced out of his blanket, one full day on Oct 14, 1957, you can live without that tape too


Lalita said...

Dammit, Raj. I was going to do a post on eye contact and why it is eschewed in elevators, personal space and all that. Now you have been and gone and done it, as they say.

Shut me up, too. LOL

Raj said...

Lalita, too bad, I beat you to it. As the saying goes, fastest fingers first