An important influence on behaviour is the impact of other people, and in particular our interactions with other people. When interacting with each other individuals like to keep a certain amount of distance between themselves and those that they are interacting with. This is known as personal space and the amount required varies, based upon a number of different factors. A further way that humans protect their interactions with others is by defending space or territory that they believe to be their own.

Again the amount of territory that we believe that we have, and the extent to which we are willing to defend it, varies according to the situation


What is personal space?

Katz (1937) was the first person to discuss the term 'personal space'. Bell et al. (1996, p.275) define it as a '... portable, invisible boundary surrounding us, into which others may not trespass. It regulates how closely we interact with others, moves with us, and expands and contracts according to the situation in which we find ourselves.' Thus our personal space is like a bubble. It changes shape and size depending on the situation in which we find ourselves.

For some species personal space is necessary to regulate behaviours such as feeding. Personal space can also be used as a communication channel to let others know the type of relationship that exists between others and us.

Types of personal space

Hall (1966) identified four categories of personal space:

·         Intimate: 0-45 cm; very close relationships, but also situations where social rules allow contact, e.g. sport (near = body contact; far = whispering)

·         Personal: 45-120 cm; good friends (near = intimate; far = friends)

·         Social: 1.2-3.5m; business type relationships (near = informal; far = formal)

·        Public: 3.5m+ (near = speaker and audience; far = public and important figure).

It is important to remember that we tend to perceive people as nearer than they really are.

There are numerous theories as to why we require personal space. Bell et al. (1996) stated that there are four main theories:

. Arousal theory. When people invade our personal space we usually become aroused. As a result, we try to make sense of this arousal and this dictates how much space we feel that we require. For example, when we meet someone for the first time (for example, on a date), we may either feel good or nervous. Both of these situations could arouse us. In the first situation (feeling good), we may require less personal space than in the second situation (feeling nervous), as we have understood why we are aroused and acted upon that reason.

. Behavioural constraint theory. According to this theory, we require our personal space; otherwise, we feel that our behavioural freedom is being taken away. We feel this when people get too close.

. Overload theory. We maintain an optimum personal space in situa­tions in order to avoid being bombarded with too much information.

This over-stimulation needs to be avoided; otherwise, it is impossible to cope with the situation, because we are too busy processing all of the information (for example, facial details, smells and touch).

. Stress theory. This theory states that we keep personal spaces so that we do not get stressed about close proximity. Basically, it subsumes the above theories into a more general explanation. [Link to Crowding].


Measuring personal space

The main methods of measuring personal space are described below, each having its advantages and disadvantages. It is commonly accepted that due to the sensitive nature of measuring personal space there is no ideal method.

Laboratory experiments in which variables can be controlled and measurements can be taken of personal space. These techniques allow researchers to control many potentially confounding variables, but the artificial set-up may not generalise to everyday behaviour.

Simulation techniques in which participants act out scenarios linked to personal space with symbolic figures, such as dolls or teddy bears (see, for example, Little, 1968, p.6). This is particularly good for measuring the personal space of children but, as with laboratory experiments, the artificial set-up may not generalise to everyday behaviour.

Field experiments in which participants are (unknowingly, in some cases) observed in natural settings. The researchers can still manip­ulate variables and observe how people react to these manipulations (see Fisher and Byrne, 1975, p.9). The advantage of this method is that it has high ecological validity; that is, it is a good measure of everyday behaviour, as it is in a natural setting. However, there are ethical implications associated with experimenting on people without their consent.

Questionnaires in which participants have to imagine a scenario and rate whether they feel uncomfortable in the situation. An example is the Comfortable Interpersonal Distance Scale (CIDS) (Duke and Nowicki, 1972), on which participants have to rate where they feel uncomfortable in the situation that they are imagining.


The CIDS technique allows a precise measurement of the area of personal space that people require in different situations. However, people could lie when completing the CIDS or not imagine the scenario very well. Also, as with laboratory experiments and simulation methods, the questionnaire technique is an artificial set-up and may not generalise to everyday behaviour.

Naturalistic observations in which participants are observed in natural surroundings, where they would normally be observable. Therefore, people act more 'naturally', and so there is improved ecological validity. Situations do not need to be created to measure personal space, although the measurements may not be as 'controlled' as those in laboratory experiments.

Virtual environment measures: with advances in technology it is now possible to measure personal space in a virtual reality environment, gaining accurate measurements as individuals navigate around a virtual environment without awareness of the measurements being taken, thus removing the conscious decision-making process involved with some of the other measures. An outline of how this method is used is described in the key study below.


Interpersonal distance in immersive virtual environments

BaiIenson, Blascovich, Beall and Loomis (2003)

Aim: In the first of two experiments the researchers aimed to investigate personal space in a virtual environment containing a virtual human. They hypothesised that participants would leave a larger personal space bubble around virtual humans who maintained eye gaze with the participants than those who did not.

Participants: 80 students from an introductory psychology course, both male and female with a mean age of 19.6 years.

Method: Participants completed two blocks of trials, one block with female virtual humans and one block with male virtual humans and there were five trials in each block. Gaze  behaviour was also varied as either high gaze or low gaze. The order of the blocks was counterbalanced across the participants. Participants wore a head-mounted display (HMD) that included a display monitor over each eye. While wearing the HMD, the outside world could not be seen. The system that was used redraws the virtual environment 30 times a second, separately for each eye. To prevent the aim of the study influencing the results all participants were led to believe that it was a study about memory. Participants were told that they had to walk towards the stationary person and read the name and number that was located on a patch on his or her shirt; this was large enough to be read from a distance of 0.75 metres. They were told that they would be asked questions about this as well as about the person's clothing, hair colour and eye colour.

After the two blocks of trials were completed the HMDs were removed and the participants were given a recall task where they had to recall all the names and numbers on the patches. A matching task and a social presence questionnaire were also completed.

Results: The minimum distance of personal space that participants assumed between themselves and the virtual human was taken. The mean front minimum distance was 0.51m and the mean back minimum distance was 0.45 m with the difference between these being significant. A significant difference was also found between the high and low gaze conditions with a greater distance being maintained in the high gaze condition. Participants also maintained a significantly greater distance from the female virtual humans than the male virtual humans.

Conclusions: The study allowed a realistic measure of personal space to be taken while the participants were unaware as to the purpose of the study. The results supported previous suggestions regarding the size and shape of the personal space 'bubble'.

There has been a debate in this area of psychology with regard to whether the above measures actually test the same thing. For example, Knowles (1980) noted that there is some consistency between the various techniques, but in some studies the consistency between various techniques has been low (Wann and Weaver, 1993). It may depend on the type of personal space that you are trying to measure (for example, the distance from strangers or from friends, or informal situations).

Through the use the above techniques, it has been possible for psycholo­gists to measure personal space in different' situations, and a variety of individual and cultural differences have been reported.

Individual and cultural differences

Individual variables seem to affect our levels of tolerance to having our personal space invaded. Sanders (1978) discovered that personal space is affected by the menstrual cycle. Females ranging from 17 to 27 years of age completed a menstrual cycle questionnaire and it was discovered that they tended to maintain a larger personal space during the menstrual period compared to the approximate middle of the cycle.

Prior knowledge about a situation can also affect the amount of personal space that we wish to have. Feroleto and Gounard (1975) examined how close individuals would seat themselves in relation to an interviewer depending on their expectations about the situation. Twenty participants took part in the study, 10 college students and 10 older adults from a residential county home. In both groups of participants, half were told to expect an unpleasant interaction and half were told to expect a pleasant interaction. Those who were told to expect an unpleasant situation sat significantly further away compared to those who were expecting a pleasant situation. The older adults seated themselves further away in both conditions (unpleasant and pleasant). This would appear to indicate that older adults require larger personal spaces, as they may feel more threatened in an interpersonal situation.

An intriguing study conducted by Skorjanc (1991) examined the personal space of participants in relation to the perceived violence level of a criminal. The participants were primed (given information beforehand) into believing that a person they were about to meet in a room was a violent offender, a non-violent offender or someone who had never criminally offended. The measurement of personal space was taken as the number of seats away that the participant chose to sit in relation to the criminal or non-criminal. The results showed that, on average, the participants sat much closer to the person they had been told had never criminally offended compared to the two 'criminals'. There was little difference in the mean number of seats that the participant sat away from either the violent or the non-violent offender. Therefore, attitudes about individuals can affect our personal space preferences in social situations that involve them.

Gender has long been assumed to be one area in which differences are marked with respect to personal space. Early research showed that females have a smaller personal space, especially in same-sex interactions (Andersen and Leibowitz, 1978; Larsen and LeRoux, 1984). Maier and Ernest (1978) asked adults to rate levels of touch in a series of hypothetical situations. Consistent findings emerged: both males and females believed that people, irrespective of gender, would prefer to be touched by a female. Also, both genders reported that females place more emphasis on touch compared to males. However, observational studies have reported there is no difference in the number of times a man and woman touch (Henley, 1973; Willis et al., 1978; Greenbaum and Rosenfeld, 1980; Major, 1981). On the other hand, Bell et al. (1996) noted that females interact at a closer distance compared to males when with people that they like or find attractive.

So, in some studies females are more positive about same-gender touch than males. However, examination of potential cultural differences in same-gender touch has been limited. Willis and Rawdon (1994) examined female and male students from Chile, Spain, Malaysia and the United States. They all completed the Same-Sex Touch Scale (developed by Larsen and LeRoux, 1984) that measures the impor­tance we place on touch in interactions with the same sex: the higher the score, the more importance was placed on touch in same-sex inter­actions. The average scores for each gender (F = female, M = male) in each nationality are shown in the table below, out of a maximum score of 100:





 United States













As can be seen, irrespective of culture, females had more positive scores towards same-sex touch compared to males. With respect to culture, the Malaysian students had the most negative scores. The Spanish males were the most tolerant of all males of same-sex touch. Of all groups, females from the United States had the most positive scores. Of course, the research has its limitations, in that the measure was via a question­naire rather than actual observation of interactions. However, it does note cultural and gender differences in personal space.

Little (1968) examined cultural differences over 19 different social situations in a sample of Americans, Swedes, Greeks, Italians and Scots. The participants had to place dolls at distances that reflected where they would stand in real social situations. The situations that they had to assess included: two good friends talking about a pleasant topic; a shop owner discussing the weather with his assistant; two people talking about the best place to shop; and two strangers talking about an unpleasant topic. Here is a graph of the average distances (in twelfths of an inch [1 inch = 2.54 cm]) over the 19 different social situations.



As can be seen, on average, the Greeks placed the dolls at shorter distances, while the Scots placed them at greater distances, compared to the other nationalities.

 What is territory?

Territory is usually considered to be a physical space that we believe we have some ownership of on either a temporary or permanent basis.

Territory can be seen as belonging to one individual or a group of individuals, and it is a relatively stationary area often with visible boundaries.


Types of territory

Bell et al. (1996, p. 304) define territoriality as follows: '... (it) can be viewed as a set of behaviours and cognitions a person or group exhibits, based on perceived ownership of physical space'. This may be permanent, as in owning a house, or temporary, as in controlling your office space but not directly 'owning' it.

Altman (1975) noted that we have three different types of territory:


 Type of

Occupation of territory/

The extent to which we 'personalise'


perception of ownership

the territory

 Primary territory (For

High degree of occupation and

The territory is personalised in great

 example, own home,

perception of ownership.

detail, so that the owner has

 office space, bedroom)

We believe that we permanently

complete control, and others


own the territory, and others

recognise this almost immediately


believe this too.

after entering the territory



Uninvited intrusion can have serious




 Secondary territory (For

Medium degree of occupation

Personalisation occurs to some extent,

 example, a classroom)

and perception of ownership.

but only when the occupancy of the


We believe that we are one of

territory is legitimate. For example,


only a limited number of users

within about one month of a new class


of the territory

starting, each person will have his or



her own seat, in which he or she will



usually stay For the rest of the year.



That person legitimately 'owns' that



seat during every lesson.

 Public territory (For

Low degree of occupation and

Personalisation tends to be temporary,


 example, an area on

perception of ownership.

as we may not revisit the territory For


 a beach, or a seat on a

We believe that we are one of

some time. We tend not to defend this



countless people who use this

territory in the way we would if it were



piece of territory.

primary or secondary territory.





The importance and functions of territory

So, on the basis of what we have seen about the importance of territory, what could be the functions of territory for humans? Taylor (1978) believes that one of its functions is to allow us to organise ourselves sensibly:


 Type of territory

The function of the territory in terms 'of organisation

 A public place (For

It organises a person's space. It allows you to try to dictate the amount

 example, on a beach or in

of personal space that you would like within that territory.

 a library)


 Primary territory (For

It again organises a person's space. It allows you to tell others that you

 example, your bedroom or

need some solitude. It allows For intimate behaviour to occur. It also

 your desk at work)

allows an outlet For self-expression and personal identity.

 Small groups, usually

It organises the Function of the group. It can aid communication

 Face-to-Face (For example:

between the group members, with both verbal and non-verbal cues

 with close Friends)

being picked up more easily. Also, 'home court advantage’ can play a role (see


Schwartz and Barsky, 1977). That is, you Feel more confident with things when


they are part of your group's territory and not another person's. For example, in


sport, most teams will perform better when playing 'at home'.

 Communities and the

It organises larger areas of territory as an 'in-group' area or the 'in place


to be'. It gives a sense of belonging to a larger group of people. You sense that


you can trust the people who commonly use the territory.


Is there a similar sense of territory in the workplace? We spend a great deal of our time there, so is territory important for job satisfaction? Meijanders et al. (2000) examined whether having your own 'personal' desk or having to share a desk space had an effect on job satisfaction.

Meijanders et al. (2000) showed that primary territory does have an effect on personal identity, as proposed by Taylor (1978). They examined the regulation of privacy in an office that was non-territorial (that is, where workers use any available desk that happens to be free at a particular time - this is called hotdesking) compared to a traditional 'one person per desk' office. The main results showed that employees in both types of office were satisfied with the set-ups. However, the way in which this satisfaction was maintained differed between the two groups of employees. Compared to the employees in the traditional office, those in the non­-territorial office placed less emphasis on their personal identities at work. There was no difference between the group identity levels for both sets of employees. This can be explained by Taylor's (1978) model, noted above, as the employees in the non-territorial office were 'deprived' of a definite territory and therefore the opportunity to assert their personal identities. This had a detrimental effect on satisfaction. The consequences that this might have with regard to future job satisfaction, or whether it predicted the length of time that someone might spend in their job, were not reported.

Another avenue of research has looked into whether personalising your office space (for example, with photographs and personal items) has an effect on job satisfaction. Wells (2000) examined the role of personali­sation on satisfaction in 20 companies in California.


Wells, M.M. (2000) Office clutter or meaningful personal displays: the role of office personalisation in employee and organizational well-being. Journal of Environmental

Psychology, 20, 239-55

Aim: To examine the role of territory in the workplace, especially whether personalisation of office space has an effect on employee well-being and organisational well-being (for example, how much a person likes to work in a particular environment, the morale of workers, and so on).

Method: Wells surveyed 338 office workers from 20 companies in Orange County, California, on the amount of personalisation allowed at work and how they personalised their own office spaces,

Results: For employee well being, three aspects played a role:

·          As the number of personal items displayed on or around a desk increased, so did satisfaction with the work environment.

·          There was an association between how much the employee would like to personalise and how much was allowed. The more employees were allowed to personalise, the more they were satisfied with the work environment.

·          The more control that a person had over determining the arrangement of his or her workspace, the more satisfied he or she was with the work environment.

Also, satisfaction with the work environment was strongly related to Job satisfaction. Those who were happy with their physical work environment were more likely to be satisfied with their job. For organisational well-being, the companies that allowed more personalisation of work space reported a more positive work environment, a more positive social climate among employees, greater levels of worker morale and reduced staff turnover. Finally, females tended to personalise more with items related to personal relationships (especially family, friends and pets), and had more trinkets and more plants compared to males. The only aspect of personalisation where males exhibited higher levels than females was with regard to sport.

Conclusion: This research shows the importance of primary territory - as defined by Altman (1975) and then Taylor (1978) - in the formation of a personal identity, and the subsequent satisfaction of being able to show it to other people.A sense of territorial ownership appears to be important for many individuals and families. Peluso (2000) examined low-income groups in Brazil, with the idea that a sense of territory to protect the 'self' from the adversities of outside life would be evident, as there appear to be 'grand' ideas about the potential benefit, intimacy and privacy of owning a home.

Indeed, this is what Peluso discovered when she interviewed low-income families. Some of the poorest inhabitants of Brasilia considered their houses to be comfortable and adequate for a private life, an important function of territory. However, many of the interviewees did indicate a desire for improvement by stating that they would like, among other things, a bigger and better home. This shows that people want territory to allow them to feel protected.

Intriguingly, the homeless population of Rio de Janeiro also shows levels of territorial behaviour that are linked to home ownership (dos Santos and Duarte, 2000). Observations of homeless people revealed many symbolic forms of behaviour that were indicative of territorial occupation. For example, the use of barriers or urban equipment allowed the homeless to 'map out' bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens. Therefore, a sense of territory appears to be important in a variety of circumstances.

Measurement of territory

It can be very difficult to measure territory and it is particularly difficult to carry out laboratory studies. This is due to the fact that the very nature of territory is something that individuals feel they have some degree of ownership of, and thus it is not possible to recreate easily in an artificial setting, therefore other methods have to be employed.

. Field experiments involve a certain degree of experimental

manipulation and control by the researcher, for example invading territory in a real world setting such as student dorms and measuring reactions to this.

. Surveys and interviews: an alternative way to study territory is simply to ask people about their territory and their defence of it using either questionnaires or interviews. These can be a quick and relatively easy way to gather an insight into territory.

. Naturalistic observations involve watching a real life location, such as a workplace, and noting down the behaviour observed using unobtrusive measures such as the level of personalisation and marking.

What happens if personal space is invaded?

Personal space is invaded when another individual interacts at a distance that feels uncomfortable. This distance will vary depending upon who the person is and what the interaction is about. Other factors may also influence the point at which personal space is considered to be invaded and these will be considered later.

There are a number of possible effects of an invasion of personal space and these include an increase in physiological arousal and an attempt to leave the situation.

Physiological arousal

It is difficult to gain an accurate measure of the level of physiological arousal linked to the invasion of personal space as if the participants know that their arousal levels are being monitored it can affect results. The key study below conducted by Middlemist et al. (1976) demonstrates an innovative, although not entirely ethical, way of measuring the impact of the invasion of personal space on arousal.


Personal space invasion in the lavatory: suggestive evidence for arousal Middlemist, Knowles and Matter (1976)

Aim: To examine the proposal that invaded personal space leads to an increased level of arousal.

Participants: 60 males who visited a men's public lavatory at an American university.

Method: The men's lavatory contained three urinals and the men were unknowingly randomly assigned to one of three conditions:

. the experimenter stood directly next to the participant

. the experimenter stood at the opposite end of the urinals

. the experimenter was not present.

These conditions were manipulated by the experimenters placing a cleaning bucket by either the centre or right urinal to indicate that it was not to be used. Condition 1 represented a high level of personal space invasion, while in condition 3 there was no personal space invasion. Another experimenter using a periscope from inside a cubicle observed the men. Two key measures were taken, first how quickly the participant began to urinate and second how long he urinated for.

Results: On average, the men in condition 1 took twice as long to begin urinating (9 seconds) and persisted for significantly less time (18 seconds) compared to the men in condition 3 who took only 5 seconds to begin urinating and urinated for 25 seconds.

Conclusions: The results suggest that invaded personal space in a lavatory leads to an increase in autonomic arousal, thus affecting urination.

Another study that examined arousal levels, linked to the invasion of personal space, was conducted by Gale et al. (1975). They measured both direct invasion (closeness of a person) and indirect invasion (looking at the participant). For the 18 participants, an electroencephalogram (EEG) reading was taken in varying conditions. The EEG measured electrical activity in the brain and was used as a measure of arousal. The conditions involved a male experimenter either directly looking at the participant or looking away, at distances of 2,4,8, 16 or 32 feet (0.6, 1.2, 2.4,4.8 or 9.7 m) away from the participant. The results showed that the greatest level of EEG arousal was when the experimenter was looking at the participant from a distance of 2 feet (0.6 m) away. The EEG arousal measures dimin­ished the further away the experimenter was from the participant. However, for each distance, the EEG readings showed more arousal when the experimenter was looking at the participant compared to when the experimenter was looking away.


Flight behaviour

Another possible consequence of invading an individual's personal space is that they leave the situation more quickly than would have happened without the invasion.

A study conducted by Felipe and Sommer (1966) provided evidence for the hypothesis that avoidance behaviour, in this case leaving the situation, was the result of negative emotions due to the invasion of personal space. The study was conducted at a 1500-bed psychiatric hospital. Patients spent a great deal of time sitting alone outside and this is where the invasion was staged; a stranger, an experimental confederate, went and sat down approximately 15 cm away. If the patient moved along the confederate also did, to maintain close proximity. It was found that after one minute 20 per cent of the invaded patients had left the situation compared with none of a control group (personal space was not invaded as they were watched from a distance). After 20 minutes two thirds of the invaded group had left the situation compared with only a third of the control group. These results do seem to demonstrate that invaded personal space leads to a flight response.

Felipe and Sommer (1966) conducted a further study and obtained similar findings in an almost empty university library. A female experimenter sat very close to female students even though there was plenty of other available space. After 30 minutes 70 per cent of the students had left the library.

Konecni et al. (1975) also found similar results when pedestrians' space was invaded as they waited to cross the road. The closer the confederate stood the quicker the pedestrian crossed the road. Thus suggesting that the greater the invasion of personal space the more anxious a person is to escape.

Smith (1983) noted that there were cultural differences in the extent to which people defended their area on a beach. Germans showed a much more striking sense of territoriality compared to the French. The Germans showed many more actions linked to territorial behaviour. For example, they were much more likely to erect sandcastles to indicate that the particular area of the beach was reserved for them.

Hoppe et al. (1972) examined the effectiveness of territorial markers in libraries and public houses. In libraries, when one person on a desk asked a neighbour to defend their space while they went away to do something, leaving a territorial marker such as a notebook was no more effective than leaving no territorial marker at all. However, about half of the neighbours in the 'no territorial marker' group subsequently placed their own terri­torial markers in the space they had just been asked to save! In the public house study, a half-full glass of beer was found to be very effective at marking territory, compared to a personal marker such as a jumper.


Factors influencing the reaction to the invasion of personal space There are a number of factors that affect the amount of personal space required and thus affect at what point an individual believes personal space to be invaded.

Gender is one factor that affects the amount of personal space required, with research finding that males and females prefer different amounts of personal space which is also affected by who they are interacting with. Gifford (1987) found that males like to have most personal space when interacting with other males, followed by females interacting with other females. Males interacting with females and vice versa wanted least personal space. Fisher and Byrne (1975) investigated gender differences in response to the invasion of personal space by studying both male and female students in a university library. Confederates either sat next to, one seat away from, or opposite the participants. Each participant was asked to complete a questionnaire about the experience. The results demonstrated gender differences as males were less comfortable having the space invaded opposite them, but did not mind invasion from the sides. Females showed the reverse, disliking invasion from the sides more than from opposite them.


Fisher, J.D. and Byrne, D. (1975) Too close for comfort: sex differences in response to invasions of personal space. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 32 (1). 15-21

Aim: There were two main aims of this study: (1) to examine gender differences in the invasion of personal space; and (2) to examine how gender affects the putting up of barriers to indicate to others where our personal space is.

Method: For the first aim. Fisher and Byrne's confederates (people who knew what the exper­iment was about) invaded the personal space of 62 males and 63 females in a university library in a number of ways. They either sat next to the participants. sat one seat away from the partic­ipants or sat opposite the participants for 5 minutes. After the invasion had taken place. Fisher and Byrne asked each participant to complete a questionnaire about the experience. Questions were asked about how the participants felt during the invasion of their personal space (for example. how happy they felt. how attracted they were to the confederate. their perceived level of crowding and so on).

For the second aim, a different researcher was used, who was not told about the aim of the research (this is called the 'single-blind' technique). The researcher had to observe 33 males and 33 females and record where they placed their personal belongings on a library table.

Results: From the first study, distinct gender differences emerged. Males disliked being invaded by someone approaching from opposite them, but did not mind someone invading the space next to them. For females, different results arose: they did not mind people invading the space opposite to them, but they disliked invasion when someone sat next to them. The following tables of means highlight this trend across all measures taken on the questionnaire:


 Happiness rating - the higher the score.


Sitting next to


 the more happy the participant was


Sitting opposite









 Attractiveness rating - the higher the score.




 the more attracted the participant was to


Sitting next to

Sitting opposite

 an opposite-sex confederate








 Perceived level of crowding - the higher






Sitting next to


 the score the more the participant felt


Sitting opposite










The results of the second study backed up those reported in the first study. Males were more likely to place their personal belongings in front of them, while females were more likely to place personal belongings next to them - both males and females were setting up barriers to defend their least favourite direction from which they could be invaded.

The table below shows the number of 'barrier placements' observed on the table at which the participants were seated



Barrier next to person

Barrier opposite person










Conclusion: From this study it is clear that males do not like to have the space in front of them invaded. Females do not like to have the space next to them invaded. Both genders defend this invasion by setting up barriers to stop people getting too close.


Age can also influence the required amount of personal space and Hayduk (1983) suggested that personal space increases with age. Children do not show the same awareness of personal space, but need for personal space appears to increase as we get older. By the age of 12, children use personal space like adults.

Different cultures have preferences for different amounts of personal space, for example, Arabs only like a small amount of personal space. Collett (1971) trained English men to act in the same way as Arabs with regard to eye contact and the use of space. Following interaction with Arabs it was found that the Arabs liked those who had been ‘trained’ better.

The situation can affect the closeness of interactions. King (1966) found that in friendly situations the amount of personal space required is smaller than in unfriendly situations. Tedesco and Fromme (1974) studied participants interacting with a confederate in either a competitive or co­operative situation. The participants were then taken into another room and their interpersonal space was measured. They found that the co­operative group chose smaller amounts of personal space than those from the competitive group.

The status of an individual can affect interactions. The greater the difference in status the larger the amount of interpersonal space that is chosen. Burns (1964) showed participants a film of an office setting with someone giving a message to another person. It was found that when there was a large difference in space people judged the other person to be a subordinate, while when there was a small personal space the individuals were judged to be equal.

According to Sinha and Sinha (1991), lack of personal space (through continual invasion) may well affect our ability to complete tasks. They examined this idea by getting 60 students to perform tasks under certain conditions. The experimenters manipulated the social density by changing the number of people in the same room (the higher the social density, the more chance there is that your personal space will be invaded). They also measured the personal space of all participants using a stop-distance technique: that is, a person approaches and the participant says 'Stop' when he or she begins to feel uncomfortable. The social density and the size of the individual's preferred personal space had effects on difficult tasks, but not on simple tasks. Those participants who preferred a large personal space perceived a high social density as much more crowded compared to those who had a small personal space. This could be because the participants who had large personal spaces were more likely to perceive that their personal space was being invaded. Those with a small personal space, however, would not perceive as much invasion and therefore would report less crowding. In addition, it should be noted that the perceptions only differed during a difficult task. A simple task allowed all participants, irrespective of the size of their personal space, to perceive little crowding.

Recent research has involved the analysis of personal space invasion when using an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM, or cash point). Kaya and Erkip (1999) were interested in the levels of personal space that are comfortable when we withdraw money from an ATM. They observed people waiting to withdraw money under low- and high-density condi­tions. A total of 100 observations were conducted under both density conditions. They also interviewed a selection of participants. Personal space was predictably invaded more often under high-density conditions, but also if the participant perceived the space to be narrow around the ATM (these perceptions were measured using a questionnaire that asked them about the space in the ATM hall). Even so, there was no difference in the amount of personal space that the participants felt was necessary under both density conditions. People wanted privacy when withdrawing money. Gender did not play a main role in the need for personal space in this situation, although participants of opposite genders kept greater distances between themselves and other ATM users. One gender difference reported was that females' approach to males was more distant compared to males' approach to females (for example, in the low-density condition, 76 per cent of females kept more than 46 cm away from males, while for males approaching females this figure was only 46 per cent).

An intriguing study was conducted by Brodsky et al. (1999), who examined invasions of personal space in direct and cross-examinations in real-life courtroom trials.


Brodsky, S.L., Hooper, N.E., Tipper, D.G. and Vates, S.B. (1999) Attorney invasion of witness space. Law and Psychology Review, 23, 49-68

Aim: To examine the invasions of personal space by attorneys during direct and cross-exami­nation of witnesses in real-life trials.

Method: Brodsky et al. conducted naturalistic observations on 995 courtroom examination questions, of which 372 were direct examinations (questioning a person who you are defending) and 623 were cross-examinations (questioning a person who you are not defending). A total of 12 attorneys were observed over six cases.

Results: It was seen that attorneys invaded the personal space of witnesses most often during cross-examination compared to direct examination. However, Brodsky et al. noted that this technique was ineffective in the trials that they observed.

Conclusion: It is presumed that attorneys are invading personal space to increase the stress and arousal of witnesses, so that they 'crack under pressure' and reveal crucial evidence.

Glover et al. (2000) noted the role of personal space in bullying.  In order to reduce bullying, one of the crucial aspects was to teach the bully to respect the need of others for personal space. Once this was instilled, the bullies lessened their aggressive behaviour.


Effects and consequences of the invasion of territory

It is more difficult to conduct research to investigate the impact of the invasion of territory, as it is a challenge to find ways that are ecologically valid and thus meaningful. There is also the issue that it is sometimes difficult to make the distinction between personal space and territory in that if personal space has been invaded, in some cases territory will have also been invaded.

Research has shown, both with animals and humans, that invasion of territory often leads to an aggressive response. The more well established the territory the stronger the reaction to invasion.

There are considered to be three main types of territorial infringement (Gifford, 1997):

·         Invasion: an outsider physically enters territory usually with the intention of taking control of it, this could occur during wartime.

·         Violation: a more temporary infringement, usually the goal is not ownership but annoyance or harm, for example burglary. This type of infringement can occur by accident, for example, a boy goes into the female toilets.

·         Contamination: this involves the deliberate leaving of something that messes up your territory, for example, waste left in your garden.

According to Knapp (1978) the way in which we react to infringement of our territory will depend upon a variety of factors, as shown below:

·         Who is the infringer?  Is it a friend or a stranger?

·         Why did the infringement occur?  Was it deliberate or accidental?

·         What type of territory was infringed?        Was it primary, secondary or public?       .

·         How was the infringement accomplished?  Personal contact is worse than physical infringement.

Aggression resulting from invasion of territory is quite rare in humans. Humans tend, wherever possible, to resolve territorial invasions via negotiation. Linking in to Knapp's suggestions, evidence demonstrates that aggression is most likely to result from invasion of territories that are not fully established. Ley and Cybriwsky (1974) found that if territorial boundaries were not properly established it led to greater inter-gang violence than when boundaries were clearly established. The reason for this

difference could be due to the fact that if boundaries are clearly established in the first place there is less likelihood of the territories being invaded.

Factors influencing the reaction to the invasion of territory

The factors that influence the response to the invasion of territory are similar to those linked to the invasion of personal space.

Gender is an important influence and Mercer and Benjamin (1980) investigated territoriality in student dormitories. Students were asked to draw a map of their double occupancy room and mark which areas they thought were theirs, which were their roommates and which they shared.

Results showed that males drew larger areas as belonging to themselves.

Similarly Haber (1980) found that markers that appeared to belong to men were more effective at preventing an invasion of territory and men's desks were less likely to get invaded.

Social factors may also have an effect. Taylor, Gottfredson and Brower (1981) found that friendly neighbourhoods in Baltimore had fewer problems of territorial control and felt more responsible for neighbourhood space than those where people were unfriendly or did not know their neighbours.

Culture may influence how territory is 'seen in the first place, and thus affect how individuals respond to it being invaded. Smith (1981) compared Germans, French and Americans marking out beach space. It was found that generally males claimed more than females regardless of nationality, and groups claimed less per person than couples or people alone. The main

cultural difference was that Germans engaged in much more marking of territories and erecting boundaries, and claimed larger spaces than the other two nationalities. This suggests that territory and territoriality are at

least in part shaped by upbringing and society. The number of other people in a given situation can also have an impact. Sommer (1969) investigated territory and invasion of territory and found that in low density situations any marker in a library was effective while in high density situations personal possessions were more effective at preventing invasion.

Research has also been conducted to examine the impact of control and whether the possession of territory helps humans to dominate activities and win. Harris and McAndrew (1986) found that if people were asked to sign a petition (for something that was against their wishes) they were most likely to say no if they were on primary territory, suggesting that they felt more in control. This also links to home field advantage whereby teams are more likely to win when they are on- their home territory.




Defending personal space

There is no simple way of defending personal space, as the amount required varies depending upon so many different factors and it is often not known when an invasion is going to occur. One possible way of defending personal space is to have some sort of barrier, such as a bag or a newspaper, to limit the proximity others can attain, however this is not a very practical solution; therefore defending personal space may be better thought of as optimising personal space in different situations. One example of how this can be done is via seating arrangements. There are two main types of seating arrangements that can affect how much interaction individuals have. First, sociofugal design is when chairs are arranged to keep a greater amount of personal space between people, generally with people facing away from each other, for example, back to back seating at an airport lounge. Second, sociopetal design encourages interaction and therefore tends to reduce the amount of personal space available. The chairs tend to be arranged in a more informal way often facing each other, for example, people sitting facing each other at a round table.

Other research examining interactions could give further clues about how we defend personal space. When we feel uncomfortable we are less likely to disclose personal information. For example, in a study by Stone and Morden (1976) students were asked to discuss personal topics with a therapist at a distance of either 2 feet, 5 feet or 9 feet. It was found that most personal information was disclosed at the 5-foot distance. This could suggest that at closer distances students felt the need to defend their personal space and thus were less willing to disclose personal information.


Defending territory

One of the best ways of defending territory links to proposals made by Jacobs (1961) and Newman (1972) about defensible space. This theory proposes that certain design features, for example real or symbolic barriers, separating public territory from private territory and the ability to be able to observe suspicious activity (surveillance) will increase the resident's sense of security and reduce invasion of the territory, thus reducing crime.

A number of studies have found support for this theory although it is not clear to what extent criminals take into account defensible space features.

Newman (1972) studied crime rates in two housing projects in New York. Both housed the same number of people:

Crime rate was 50 per cent greater in Van Dyke. Therefore Newman suggested that four factors were important:

The theory of defensible space was tested in the key study by MacDonald and Gifford (1989), described below.


Territorial cues and defensible space theory: the burglar's point of view MacDonald and Gifford (1989)

Aim: To investigate how burglars interpret territorial and surveillability cues and whether it links to defensible space theory.  Participants: 44 male burglars (24 adult and 20 young offenders) detained in prison, all of whom had been convicted of breaking and entering at least once.

Method: 50 photographs of residential single-family houses were used, each providing as much information as was possible about the site. The photographs had been rated by five students prior to the study from an original sample of 121 photographs. Five photographs were rated as highly representative and five not very representative of the five categories that the researchers were examining:

Each offender was tested individually in a small interview room. Seven cardboard numbers (1-7) were spread out across the table and the offender was told that they would be shown 50 photographs that they had to rate whether the houses were likely to be broken into. The houses that were most likely to be broken into had to be put under number 1 and those least likely to be broken into had to be put under number 7.

They were asked to put at least three houses under each number.

Following sorting the photographs the offenders were asked to provide reasons for the photographs sorted into the most extreme piles.

Results: Vulnerability was judged to be lower if at least three-quarters of the house or yard could be seen from the road and if the house had a solid front door with no glass. Greater road surveillability was associated with less vulnerability as was occupants' surveillability but to a lesser extent. Symbolic barriers actually seemed to increase vulnerability and there was no link to vulnerability between actual barriers and traces of occupancy.

Conclusions: The results strongly support the defensible space proposal that surveillable property will be less vulnerable. However, symbolic and actual barriers do not seem to be a deterrent to burglars as this suggests that there will be goods worth stealing in the house. Therefore this study does not fully support Jacobs and Newman's proposals.

Other research has also found similar results linked to defensible space andthe extent to which it reduces the likelihood of territory invasion. Wise and Wise (1985) found certain features, which meant less surveillance was possible, increased the chances of a hold up in a bank. Edney (1972) found that homeowners who used clear markers were expecting to live there longer and also showed more vigilant behaviour. Also people who displayed 'no trespassing' signs were quicker to respond to a knock at the door, again suggesting that they were protecting their territory. Newman (1980) also suggested streets that have defensible space features such as speed bumps, communal spaces and clearly marked out gardens have less incidences of crime.

Exam Questions

Section A

a) Describe one way of measuring territory. [6]

b) Discuss the problems of measuring territory. [10]

a)       Describe one study of the consequences of invading personal space. [6]

b)       Discuss the ethics of research into personal space invasions. [6]

a) Describe one study of defence of territory. [6]

b) Discuss applications of research on defence of territory. [10]




Sally Gadson, Philippe Harari, Karen Legge and Linda Sherry, 2005, Psychology A2 for OCR, Heinemann, 0-435-80671-8

Craig Roberts and Julia Russell, 2002,  Angles on environmental psychology, nelson thornes, ISBN 0-7487-5978-6