By Erin Dunn
Who here likes people watching? Do you happen to know where certain people always sit in the library, or notice that specific kid with the cool jacket every day around 3 p.m.? Relax, it’s not a bad thing. In fact it’s basic curiosity to wonder who else inhabits your little bubble, and why exactly they’re doing what they’re doing. So the question is; what is really going on?
Well, lucky for you, I happen to be an avid psychology major and people-watcher extraordinaire. Out of the goodness of my heart, I’ve decided to take some time to sit and chat about a few basic insights to the art of social observation.
This week’s topic is personal space. Personal space is the distance that people routinely maintain from others. I think everyone on campus knows that the Pub between 11:40 and 12:40 is an extreme violation of personal space and there’s a good reason no one goes to the Tick Tock sober. But what else do we know?
Well, personal space is actually a form of nonverbal communication. In psychology talk, there’s the “intimate zone” for friends (around 18 inches) and the “personal zone” for strangers, which is a few feet wider. Have you ever looked around the computer labs in the library? How many people do you see actually sitting next to each other? Are you about to sit down right next to someone you don’t know? Welcome to the personal zone.
How about the differences between guys and girls? Let’s say you’re sitting up at the second level tables at Dana, the ones along the balcony. The date tables, judge tables, whatever you’d like to call them. Let’s say it’s early – the staggered breakfast zombies before 8:30 class. Obviously you look around you, pretending to gaze off into space. You put your books out on the table, but that’s really just to look like you’re occupied. Now you nonchalantly look down into the pit. What do you notice? All the guys are sitting on one side of the table, watching SportsCenter. Look around more. Tables scattered with girls sitting across from each other, quietly talking. What’s going on?
Studies have found that males are much more likely to experience a violation of personal space when someone sits across from them, but girls are more uncomfortable when someone sits right next to them, invading their personal bubble from the side. Don’t believe me? If you’re a guy, try some time to sit on the other side of the table in that pit. Don’t tell me it’s not weird.
So what’s the moral of the story? Personal space matters more than most people think. Guys, if you’re trying to hit on a girl, you’d be well advised to sit down across from their stunning physique. See where it gets you.
But don’t forget the basic theme of psychology: everyone is different. Here’s a trick to determine your personal space bubble. Find someone you don’t know too well. Stand about ten feet apart from each other, and then have them walk toward you. As soon as it’s too awkward to handle any more, tell them to stop. There’s your bubble. Congratulations – go let everyone know. And then maybe think about exactly how much you’ll need to drink to get yourself to the Tick Tock.