Scientists have determined the standard distance for personal space – as once popularized by Elaine’s boyfriend Aaron, the close talker, on “Seinfeld” – as 8 to 16 inches from the face, or greater for people with anxiety traits.
The boundary was determined by measuring study participants’ blink reflexes. University College London scientists also conducted surveys to measure anxiety levels among participants and compare the data with the intensity of reflexes.
In the study, slated for publication in The Journal of Neuroscience, scientists applied intense electrical stimuli to a nerve in the participant’s hand and recorded the magnitude of the reflex as the subject held his other hand at 4, 20, 40 and 60 centimeters from his face.
Medical News Today reports:
People who scored highly on the anxiety test tended to react more strongly to stimuli 8 inches from their face than those who got low scores.
The researchers classified the more anxious people reacting more strongly to further-away stimuli as having a large “defensive peripersonal space.”
Dr. Chiara Sambo put this another way, telling Medical News Today that the study found “more anxious individuals have a larger ‘defensive space,’ possibly because they overestimate the critical distance at which self-protective behaviors are required.”
They believe this could be particularly useful for seeing how good people are at determining risks in certain jobs – fire, police and military personnel, for example, who encounter dangerous situations.
Previously: Keep calm or blow a fuse? Studying emotion regulation
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