Certainly one of the most important rules imposed in public spaces is to not invade the personal space of other people. But how did this concept evolved and why we feel so uncomfortable when it is violated?
According to a scientific research from 1960 belonging to anthropologist Edward Hall, each of us has its personal space divided in four different sizes according to the people we stand.
The restricted area is called the intimate space and it extends beyond our bodies to 45 cm in each direction (like an invisible “bubble” that surrounds us ) here we include only our family, acquaintaces and pets. The next dimension it’s called personal space and it extends from 45 cm to 120 cm. Here we include friends and acquaintances, especially when we have informal conversations, strangers are seen as intruders. From120 cm to 360 cm it’s the next zone called social space. In this zone people take part in social interactions with strangers. Beyond this barrier lies public space, open to all.
However, some experts say that the limits vary from one culture to another and depending on the context. Ralph Adolphs, a specialist on this subject, believes that we begin to understand this concept around the age of 3-4 years. In a research from 2009, Adolphs emphasize that, at the base determining our personal space lies the amygdala, the brain region involved in triggering fear.
Amygdala is activated when others invade our personal space. This reflects the strong emotional response produced when someone stands too close to us.
Another specialist, psychologist Robert Sommer explained that when we are in crowded places such as buses or subways, and we can not avoid the invasion of personal space we tend to “dehumanize” others by avoiding the gaze or other contacts .