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Are You a Space Invader?

Did you know that personal space extends from 1.5 to 4 feet away?

Personal space is an invisible bubble that surrounds every human being. If you have had someone intrude on your personal space, you know how hard it is to think about anything other than regaining your comfort zone. According to research by American anthropologist Edward Hall, personal space extends from 1.5 to 4 feet away and is reserved for friends and acquaintances. Strangers should stand even further away.

The maintenance of personal space appears to be a very basic survival mechanism. As one Harvard professor explained, when someone gets too close, there’s an “automatic instinctual” response in the brain that we do not have much control over. When our personal space is invaded, the amygdala—the brain region involved in fear—is activated, which explains why so many of us have strong reactions to space invaders.

Personal space varies depending on context; cultural and individual differences can dramatically alter the size and flexibility of a person’s bubble. What should you consider when navigating others’ personal space?

  1. Are you standing face-to-face or side-by-side? Most prefer more space when facing a person than when standing side-by-side. Close face-to-face interactions should be reserved for intimate family and friends.
  2. What is the cultural background of the other person? Personal space varies by culture. For example, those living in densely populated areas are accustomed to a smaller bubble; they can also create psychological space by avoiding eye contact.
  3. Is the interaction stressful? In stressful situations, personal space should increase to give the parties extra breathing room.
  4. Has the other person faced previous trauma? People who have been emotionally or physically traumatized often prefer larger bubbles.

Respecting others’ personal space builds trust and fosters connection. Thinking twice about the context of your interactions will help you avoid being a space invader! How do you want to be remembered?

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