Have you ever felt uncomfortable when a stranger stands just a little too close in line at Starbucks or at the grocery store? Most people can say with confidence that they have experienced a violation of personal space, but why is it such an uncomfortable experience, and why can others be so oblivious to their surroundings?
A part of the human brain called the Amygdala is programmed to manage fear and process emotions. These almond shaped regions in the temporal lobe are the reason for discomfort when a stranger enters the sphere of another’s personal space. An article in TIME Magazine describes a study, showing that the Amygdala is stimulated when participants are told that another person is standing close to them, even if they are not able to confirm this person’s presence through sight, sound or smell. Have you ever gotten that eerie feeling that someone is hovering too closely?
Personal space is a subjective issue depending on several factors like surroundings or relationship to another person. Someone who lives in a big city and relies on public transportation might be more accustomed to violation of personal space than someone who lives in the suburbs. Despite a way of living, an event like a concert or a baseball game causes less anxiety because a limited amount of personal space is anticipated. The level of comfort is additionally contingent upon the relationship to the person who is in your space. Isn’t everyone more comfortable hugging family and friends than simple acquaintances?
Our technology-driven world has rendered people seemingly oblivious to their surroundings with the proliferation of Smartphones. People tend to become distracted by a text message or a game of Angry Birds, making them unaware that their proximity allows others to determine whether they have showered or not.
On the road, it is common knowledge to maintain distance and remain a car length (or more) apart, but similar rules are applicable in a public location. People need to be conscious that everyone has a different comfort level. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a force field that kept strangers outside of our personal space?