Proxemic behaviour

Proxemic Behaviour
One of the most dramatic pieces of research to examine the way we differentially respond to people varying to ourselves in facial appearance examined proxemic behaviour, that is the personal space during interaction (Rumsey, Bull & Gahagan, 1983). In a busy London Street, the distance with which 450 pedestrians stood next to a person waiting to cross a road with a small simulated port wine stain (strawberry mark) and someone with temporary facial bruising was noted. It was found that, on average, pedestrians were willing to stand 56cm from the person when they had ‘normal’ facial appearance. However this increased to 78cm when the person had simulated facial bruising, and almost doubled to 100cm when the person had a simulated small ‘port wine stain’ under their right eye. Additionally, more often pedestrians preferred to stand to the ‘normal’ facial side of the person with facial bruising and the port wine stain but had no side preference for the person of ‘normal’ appearance.
A related piece of research examined proxemic behaviour whilst travelling on a suburban Glasgow railway line (Houston & Bull, 1994). Rather than physical standing distance being measured however, this time the frequency with which the seats immediately surrounding the person became occupied was examined. As before the same person was used in the study and had either a normal facial appearance, a simulated ‘port wine stain’, a simulated small bruise around the eye, or a simulated small scar. The results were similar to those in the previous study. On significantly more occasions, the seats surrounding the person of ‘normal’ facial appearance were occupied than when the person had some form of decrement in facial appearance. Somewhat surprisingly, the seats remained vacant more often when the person had the port wine stain, than when they had either the facial scar or bruise. All this behaviour occurred in carriages containing similar numbers of people.