December 13, 1999
How close is too close? Culture often holds the clue
By Jennifer McNulty
Ever since anthropologist Edward T. Hall began exploring space as the "silent language" in the 1950s, researchers have studied the ways in which people use and are affected by space.
The study of spatial relations covers both space itself, or proxemics, as well as touch, or haptics. Archer's video, which was shot in Santa Cruz and features UCSC students, covers both areas. It is the latest in a series of educational videos that Archer has produced about nonverbal communication.
Among the highlights of the video are field experiments that document how people react when their personal space is invaded, including covert glances, shifting position, trying to block out the invaders, and--finally--fleeing. Subsequent interviews with the unwitting "invadees" reveal their discomfort and the extent to which people rely on each other to follow society's unwritten yet implicit rules about space.
"In the United States, it's our unconscious goal to maximize the distance between people," said Archer. "When our space is invaded, it's very stressful, but only 1 percent of people ever say anything to a space invader."
The video, which is designed to be a teaching tool for college instructors of sociology, psychology, and anthropology, reveals cultural differences regarding space and touch and describes some of the differences between "noncontact" cultures like the United States, northern European countries, India, and Pakistan, and "contact" cultures in southern Europe, Latin America, and many Arab nations.
Other highlights include:
For more information about Archer's series on nonverbal communication or to order the video from the UC Extension Center for Media in Berkeley, visit the Exploring Nonverbal Communication Web site.