Behavioural and experiential variations in 'personal space': A self-categorization account.

Behavioural and experiential variations
in ‘personal space’: A selfcategorization account
David Novelli
University of Sussex
John Drury
University of Sussex
Stephen Reicher
University of St Andrews
Carly Fenn
University of Sussex
Symposium: The positive crowd: Psychological and social dimensions. 15th General
Meeting of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology, Opatija, Croatia, June
10-14th 2008
Crowding 1: the negatives
Focus has been almost exclusively on the potential for negative consequences.
Animal studies: high levels of stress, abnormal sexual activity, increased
aggression, & cannibalism (Calhoun, 1962, 1976).
Prison studies: high blood pressure, increased displays of negative affect, &
higher death rates for inmates in crowded dorms (Paulus, Cox, McCain, &
Chandler, 1975; Paulus, McCain, & Cox, 1978).
Lab studies: participants’ cognitive capabilities (Worchel & Teddlie, 1976),
and social relations (Griffith & Veitch, 1971) deteriorated when exposed to
Link between urban overcrowding and increased stress and aggression
(Leyhausen, 1965).
Crowding 2: the positives
• However, review articles suggested that the experimental findings and
definitions of crowding were inconsistent:
“…it should be determined whether or not some individuals may seek, even
prefer, crowded situations.” (Lawrence, 1974, p. 718)
“Crowding may be pleasurable as well as painful. Some people thrill to the
excitement of the crowded city. Other things being equal, a large crowd is a
good indication at the theatre, stadium, beach, or party.” (Proshansky, Ittleson,
& Rivlin, 1976, p. 179).
• Examples of collective joy evident throughout history: religious
rituals, carnivals, festivals, concerts, nightclubs, raves, and sporting
events (Ehrenreich, 2007)
• Neville & Reicher (2008): Participants pleased to experience close
proximity in crowds when social identity is salient.
• Lack of quantitative evidence
Personal space approach to crowding
Personal space:
“…an area with invisible boundaries surrounding a person’s body into
which intruders may not come.” (Sommer, 1969, p. 26)
Intrusions into a person’s accepted area of ‘personal space’ can
influence whether they have a negative experience of crowding
(e.g. Evans & Wener, 2007)
How big is a personal space zone?
Some variables which can influence personal space:
Culture (Hall, 1966).
Location (Cochran, Hale, & Hissam, 1984).
Gender role (Uzzell & Horne, 2006).
These variables simply provide a list, rather than a theory of variability
in personal space. Intra-individual variation is left largely
Crowding on the underground
SCT approach to personal space/crowding
- Whether a personal or social identity is salient in a particular
context will determine whether relationships with others are
perceived to be interpersonal, intra-group, or inter-group.
- When interacting with in-group member/s, they will be
perceived as an extension of the self. When interactions are
inter-group, others will be distinct from the self.
- Therefore, less personal space should be required when
contexts are intra-group, rather than inter-group. Close
proximity should be experienced more positively in intra-group
Minimal group identity
- Participants told past researchers identified two distinct
cognitive categories – dot ‘over-estimators’ and dot ‘underestimators’.
- Told that we were interested in the communication styles of
category members when interacting with members of same
or different category.
- Participants asked to estimate the number of dots in a
series of patterns – then randomly assigned to over/under
estimator condition.
Study 1
1. Significantly less personal space required when an
anticipated interaction is intra-group, rather than
2. No difference between ‘under-estimators’’ and
‘over-estimators’’ personal space.
Participants: Female undergraduate students from
the University of Sussex (n = 80) invited to
participate in a ‘communication study’.
Study 1 – procedure (a)
- Participants arrived at lab and were informed that they would be
having a discussion with another participant. Told ‘other’ had already
started the experiment in one of two cubicles.
- Participants asked to sit in second cubicle and briefed about
‘cognitive categories’.
- Having completed computer-based estimation tasks, participants
informed ‘other’ participant had gone to look for her lost phone but
would hopefully return shortly.
- Participants assigned to category (half ‘over-estimators’, half ‘underestimators’).
- Participants informed of ‘other’s’ group membership.
Study 1 – procedure (b)
-Experimenter led participant through to ‘discussion’ room.
- Informed participant that ‘other’ participant had set herself up before
rushing off to find her phone
- Participant asked to go into ‘discussion’ room, take a chair, and set
herself up however she felt most comfortable.
- ‘Other’ participant’s chair was set up in room with a jacket, bag and
bottle of water.
- Experimenter left lab, waited outside for several minutes, then reentered to reveal true nature of the study and to measure the distance
between the chairs.
Study 1 Results
Mean distance
Proximity preferences for participants anticipating intragroup and inter-group interactions
-Intra-group participants sought significantly less personal space than inter-group
participants (F (1, 76) = 7.06, p = .010).
- There was not a significant effect of the participants’ identification as a dot ‘over’ or
‘under-estimator’ on their personal space (F(1, 72) = 0.29, p = NS).
Study 2
Investigating the experiential dimension of ‘personal space’.
Proximity and group context were used as independent
Hypothesis: Participants interacting with an ingroup
confederate will have a more positive experience than those
interacting with an outgroup confederate, especially when
interaction distance is ‘close’.
Participants: Female sixth-form students (n = 60)
Study 2 – procedure (a)
-Participants given cover story about dot ‘overestimators’ and ‘under-estimators’.
- Told that they will be taking part in an interview-style
role-play so that their interaction style can be observed.
- Interview is actually with a confederate.
- Participants assigned to category and told of
confederate’s category membership.
Study 2 – procedure (b)
-Participant asked to take a seat in ‘interview’ room, in
which the confederate was already seated.
- Participant’s chair was either ‘close’ to (34 inches), or
‘far away’ from (54 inches) confederate’s chair.
- Participant always assigned to role of ‘interviewee’.
- Following interview, participant (and confederate)
completed questionnaire, which included ‘experience’
Study 2 Results
- Significant main effect of distance on ‘experience’ (F (1, 56) = 14.05, p < .001)
- Significant main effect of categorization on ‘experience’ (F (1, 56) = 10.76, p = .002)
- IMPORTANT: Mean ‘experience’ score for the the inter-group ‘near’ condition was
not above the mid-point of the scale. It was for all three of the other conditions (to a
significant degree).
- Findings from two studies support a self-categorization approach
to personal space.
- Behavioural and experiential dimensions of personal space
dependant on perceived group membership of self and other.
- These findings offer quantitative support to the qualitative evidence
provided in the previous presentation (Neville & Reicher, 2008)
- For the first time, we have a possible unifying theory for personal
space, and hence for crowding behaviour/experience variability.
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