Cool - I actually participated in this study. Amygdala and personal space.

I came across this blog post through StumbleUpon, and thought the part about measuring subjects’ minimum comfortable personal space sounded awfully familiar. Sure enough, I look at the paper and see it’s authored by researchers at Cal Tech, where I have participated in some paid studies in their neuroscience lab over the past couple years. (I was part of the control group, of course :p)

I didn’t do the brain scanning part, but for the “interpersonal distance” thing I stood at one end of the room and the experimenter walked toward me with a laser distance meter, and I had to tell him to stop when I felt like he was about to get too close.

Anyway it’s pretty interesting research, and it’s neat to know I was a part of it.

Did he also repeat the phrase “I’m not touching you” while doing it?

DId they also do a portion of the test in the back seat of a station wagon on a road trip to Gettysburg?

That testing approach only works if the subject doesn’t mind having the laser pointer shined directly into his eyes by the “I’m not touching you” tester. Or into the car’s rearview mirror, aimed at the driver’s eyes.

That’s interesting; so there actually is something going on in my brain when people in line at Safeway are breathing down my neck and I can hardly think of anything else besides desperately wanting them to BACK THE HELL OFF! I knew it!

So, how close did he get?

Apparently, about 64 cm. That was the average comfortable distance for control subjects, and sounds about right. I probably helped push the average up slightly by requiring a little more space than that.

But there was also the point where he had to get really close, like within a few centimeters, and ask how comfortable I was on a scale of 1 to 10 - this is where they found the test subject was perfectly comfortable yet I (and other control subjects) were not. And he would back off a bit at a time from there.

And there were no shenanigans like that, although we did laugh a couple times doing it even though the experimenter is supposed to remain completely neutral.

Did the experiment control for how you responded to different categories of people?

Case in point - if the person approaching were young, attractive, and (in my case) the opposite sex, I would not find that I needed any personal space between us. In fact I would probably desire that we attempted to share the same personal space.

If the person approaching were…not those things…I would require more personal space.

Good point, and I thought about that during the experiment. There was only one experimenter and he was of the same sex, but if it had been a sexy young woman I probably would have been comfortable much closer. It wasn’t specifically taken into account, but at the end they ask if you have any additional comments and I might have mentioned it.