Psychologist Elaine Aaron discusses the need for personal space for highly sensitive types in her bestseller, “The Highly Sensitive Person.” Now her claim comes with specific numbers of just how much space is needed
The space surrounding the body (known by scientists as ‘peripersonal space’), which has previously been thought of as having a gradual boundary, has been given physical limits by new research into the relationship between anxiety and personal space.
New findings have allowed scientists to define the limit of the ‘peripersonal space’ surrounding the face as 20-40cm away. The study was published last week in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The specific distance varied between individuals. Those with anxiety traits were found to have larger peripersonal space.
In an experiment, Dr Chiara Sambo and Dr Giandomenico Iannetti from University College London recorded the blink reflex – a defensive response to potentially dangerous stimuli at varying distances from subject’s face. They then compared the reflex data to the results of an anxiety test where subjects rated their levels of anxiety in various situations.
Those who scored highly on the anxiety test tended to react more strongly to stimuli 20cm from their face than subjects who got low scores on the anxiety test. Researchers classified those who reacted more strongly to further away stimuli as having a large ‘defensive peripersonal space’ (DPPS).
A larger DPPS means that those with high anxiety scores perceive threats as closer than non-anxious individuals when the stimulus is the same distance away. The research has led scientists to think that the brain controls the strength of defensive reflexes even though it cannot initiate them.
Dr Giandomenico Iannetti (UCL Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology), lead author of the study, said: “This finding is the first objective measure of the size of the area surrounding the face that each individual considers at high-risk, and thus wants to protect through the most effective defensive motor responses.”
Scientists hope that the findings can be used as a test to link defensive behaviours to levels of anxiety. This could be particularly useful determining risk assessment ability in those with jobs that encounter dangerous situations such as fire, police and military officers.
Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.