3 Jun 2022


Social Norm Deviance: Invasion of Personal Space

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Research Paper

Words: 3074

Pages: 11

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In a society, certain set values and norms govern our behaviors and how we interact with others (Robert & Melanie, 2012). These norms influence our behaviors without our realization of its impacts. In different cultures and individuals, personal space is an accepted norm that compels people to respect others privacy. (Eva, Jorienvan, Christina, & Kathy, 2018). In this assignment I will analyze the responses from the invasion of personal space of strangers. The society norms controls our behavior such as giving people enough space while standing or sitting next to them. Instead of respecting strangers’ personal space, I will invade their space by standing in front of them as close as I can possibly get, without touching them. I chose to break this social norm because of how I am with people. Strangers or friends, it does not matter, I do not like when people stand close to me because it makes me very uncomfortable. Personally, this social norm is necessary, especially for people who are similar to me and need to have their distance from others. Personal s pace is believed to be created based on the age, stigmatizing condition, and personality, physical and psychological disorders also create the difference (Hayduk, 2008). The anticipated result being withdrawal of the stranger as a result of reinstatement of their space away from me. 

Methods   The social norm invasion took place during the day around 10 o’clock to noon. This time is favorable because the street of Downtown Salem Massachusetts is busy and many adults are on foot. This will make it possible to approach an individual and carry out my purposeful experiment. The participants must be adults because of the presumption that they have fully developed and conformed to certain social norms through their interactions (Dean, Willis, & Rocco, 2006). The experiment used only adults, because, age plays an important role in response to invasion of personal space as compared to race and sex. The adults have a distinctive boundaries concerning personal space as compared to children. Along the streets of Downtown Salem Massachusetts, while asking for directions to the Witch Museum. To start, I will approach a stranger; tell them that I am lost and that I am in need of directions to the Witch Museum. As strangers began giving directions to me, I moved closer and closer towards them. In addition to invading their personal space, I also will hold intense eye contact with them, trying my best not to blink. The whole time, although I think it might be difficult, I will keep a straight face while I perform my experiment. 

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I will approach thirty strangers, both male and female, and of different ages. This sample size choice wass based on the assumption that males and females respond differently to invasion irrespective of the sex of the invader (Fisher & Byrne, 2015). This sample will be helpful in reduction of biases and thus the increased validity of results arrived at. Each individual approached in the experiment, I recorded their reaction to my invasion of their personal space as soon as they exited the experiment setting. 

I will maintain the question of finding lost direction so that I adequately evaluate the responses. The reactions will later be evaluated and later be recorded and used in the analysis of the findings. I anticipate that some of the people will have the patient and offer assistance while others who cannot stand invasion will walk away disappointed. It is evident that the difference in response is highly contributed by the difference in their personality (Katsikitis & Brebner, 2011). 

During the experiment, I will use of observation and listening skills. This will enable me to record the unspoken words but expressed using facial expressions and other body language. The response was rated based on the effort to create a barrier or walking away or stepping back or being asked not to move any closer. The calmness of the participant will be considered. For the clients who will be able to withstand the invasion, I will disclose to them that it was an experiment and not something purposefully to invade their personal space. For individuals who will walk away, I will try to get their attention and clarify the reason behind my actions through the process of debriefing. Debriefing is important to the subjects of this experiment because of the level of stress and depression invasion to a stranger's space can cause to them. 

Pre experiment, I expected a differing response form the participants. This is based on the research that indicates, that the extent of personal space is depended on personality, acquaintanceship, and circumstances (Hayduk, 2008). To increase the validity of the research, all the participants of the experiment were strangers we had never interacted before then. 

Anomalies are expected because of the setting and the choice of subjects. This is because, being a street analysis, it is not possible to determine a normal person with regard to their appearance as compared to an individual with a mental disorder. These anomalies can range from enjoying the invasion and not showing any sign of discomfort with the closeness to being aggressive. This will be termed as behavior outside the expectation of a social context as it is normal to have personal space even if it is small other than being open to strangers and allowing them to a very close distance. 

The recording of the findings will be done one after the after and once they exit the scene. This is because recording in the progress of the experiment will alter the real response of the participants or make them even more uncomfortable. The results will be filled up in a table with relation to sex, age, and race to determine if these factors affect the designation of personal space. 

Anticipated response  Withdrawal  Nonreactive/Acceptance  Aggression  Facilitation response 
Male  3 1 10 1
Female  10 2 1 2

It is important to note that, this experiment will be carried out by myself with no disclosure of the venue and prospective subjects to anyone. This is because the presence of an acquaintance or a family member might alter my focus as well as the practicality of the exercise. 

Results/ Findings 

The results of the experiment indicated significant responses and reactions from the subjects involved as a result of personal space invasion (Sundstrom & Altman, 2006). The reactions recorded were aggression, facilitative behavior, withdrawal and avoidance, failure to respond and excessive motor activities. The intensity of the response is based on how critical personal space is to the individual. The expectation of this reaction is based on my own response on to people who invade my personal space as well as the presumption that we are all different and thus some might not be bothered. 

I used a sample size of 30 individuals (15 male and 15 female) with the age of >25 to <45. Female adults responded more aggressively than their male counterparts. Ten of the female participants stepped back and walked away having a facial expression indicating anger. Three created a barrier between us by stretching their hand forth to ensure I don't move any closer to them after they stepped back. One of the female participants gave a facilitative response where she said, “it is unethical to stand very close to someone when talking to them, and some reasonable space should be left to avoid making the other person uncomfortable”. One of the female participants didn’t respond to my invasion and stood still observing how far I intended to move. 

When I approached my first subject, she stood as I started to converse with her. As she was responding and I kept moving closer to her, she became distressed, stepped back and as I approached further and later decided to walk away due to the failure to condone my invasion. The response was similar to the other 10 participants whom I used in the experiment. They also created a safe distance by stretching forth their hands or putting their bags in between us. The black subject maintained a closer distance but did not sustain eye contact as it made them really uncomfortable. 

The male participants’ response differed from the female. Most of them responded with aggression where they asked me to stop moving close to them with an agitated voice. Despite their response, none of them walked away nor withdrew from my experiment. From the fifteen male participants, only three stepped back to allow space in between us while creating a barrier with their hand. 

These results indicate both male and female respond differently in relation to the invasion of personal space. This is irrespective of the sex of the invader but changes if the age of the invader is a child. It is acceptable and somewhat tolerable for a female subject if the invader is a female as opposed to a male invader. This is a finding arrived at after debriefing my subject and asking for their response if it is the same-sex and cross-sex for invader and subject. The race and culture of the subjects also determined their response as a result of the cohesion of their families and how they interact with strangers at an individual level. 

Discussion of Findings 

The issue of personal space was first described and researched by Cialdini and Trost (2006). Different distance close to the body of an individual determines the allowed interaction level of the other. It is clear that different behavior and actions are used to help the person get back to the comfortable zone which can be a reduction of eye conduct, walking away or the creation of more space to the distance they are okay with. 

Personal space is set and protected in the brain of a person. The establishment of personal space starts from childhood and develops through adolescence and it is distinct in adulthood. By adulthood, an individual has a well-established personal space and invasion makes them very uncomfortable. The social development in childhood can negatively or positively affect the adjustment to personal space invasion in adulthood. This is as a result of parental teachings and societal conformity. An adult personal space is divided into four bubbles characterized by the space allowed; intimate space (18 inches) reserved for family and close friends, between 1.5 feet and extending to 4 feet for acquaintances and friends, from four feet to about 12 feet for new acquaintances and strangers, any further distance is public space which can be occupied by anyone (Miller, 2016). 

Based on the above determinants of personal space, my interaction with strangers needed to observe a distance from four to twelve feet which I did not. The received responses were justified because I invaded their intimate space reserved for family and close friends with respect to the age of the invader. It is indicated that people do not have control over their behavior when personal space is invaded because it is the work of the neurological systems of the brain (Miller, 2016). 

Since it was an experiment to determine the different reactions to personal space invasion, pre-disclosure of the information to the participants would have resulted in different outcomes. For the female participants who were very uncomfortable and withdrew before the completion of the experiment, they were reproached to clarify the purpose of my actions. This altered their initial reactions and appeared to be more accommodative than earlier indicated. 

Aggression Response to Invasion. 

When a person moves very close to a distance that is uncomfortable, the mind processes the likelihood to cause harm, this stimulates the sensory glands to fight to reinstate its space. Some participants responded to the invasion with aggression. This can be because the female is more vulnerable to being attacked, violence and extreme closeness to them cause anxiety that provokes them to fight to protect their personal space (The Guardian, 1999). The past events of a person determine their response to the invasion, if an individual has experienced violence or convicted due to criminal cases, their personal space is bigger compared to those who have had a peaceful life free from any forms of violation. 


Withdraw was also witnessed in the experiment, some individuals stepped back to allow enough space between us while others silently walked away (Khan, Younus, Kamal, & Anila, 2010). The extent of invasion determines the response one exhibits (Terry & Lower, 2009). This response is tied to the individual's personality and specifically, people who do not indulge in confrontations nor have the ability to fight for their space. 

Facilitation Response 

Some of both male and female participants were able to speak out concerning how my closeness was making them uncomfortable. Despite them speaking out, their choice of words differed significantly which is in agreement with research that people have unconscious responses to the invasion of personal space (Miller, 2016). These participants took time to inform me of the importance to observe a comfortable distance when approaching a stranger or any other person. 


Acceptance in the invasion is where an individual decides to nothing about your invasion and lets you have your way. It was the least expected response due to the social normality of personal space. The individuals who exhibited this response were very unique from the others since they did not show signs of anger but rather they appeared surprised and lost. This would have occurred due to the fear of what can occur or the reluctance of the participant to flee. 

Different research has been done in the past with regard to personal space. The equilibrium model was used in an experiment where people sat on a table at a different distance, it was concluded that as the distance decreases, the eye contact of the participants also decreased (Argyle & Dean, 2005). This equilibrium model is true concerning my experiment, as I moved closer to the stranger, and keeping eye contact, they either turned to look the other side and if they looked at me, the eye contact did not last for a long period of time. This was not easy even for me as I found myself blinking form from time to time. 

Based on the experimental evidence from the previous research, children and toddlers were freely allowed into the personal space of other children and adults as compared to an adult invading another adult's personal space. This indicates that a young aged person can enter the personal space of an adult without being seen as an invasion. Male and female too respond different, for males, a barrier is created when an intruder is across in front of them. Their female counterparts are troubled and create a barrier when an intruder is adjacent to them. 


There were no anomalies reported in the experiment setting. This is because all the subjects displayed a negative feeling towards their space being invaded. Even the subjects that accepted the close distance between us, they either expressed discomfort through looking side to side, shaking and not responding to my direct question but they did not move to create more space. The rating of the anomaly behavior would also be biased because of the individual judgment and lack of clear parameters to determine the level of some behaviors. What if that is what is acceptable to the people from which the person comes from? 

My Feelings as a Deviant 

Personal space is a social norm despite the culture, age or situation. It is expected from almost every individual to respond where there is limited or no physical distance between bodies. As a deviant, I entered the intimate space of strangers wherein a normal case it is not acceptable as it breaches the privacy of the individual. It made me very uncomfortable being too close to a stranger, a person I was meeting for the first time. This is because I enjoy my personal space being respected and I knew it was unethical. 

The reactions from the strangers made me feel even more uncomfortable because I was not sure of what will transpire. It was possible to run into a very aggressive person who might have ended up hitting me up for invasion. Another fear was being pushed away and causing drama on the street full of strangers who are not aware of the experiment am undertaking. 

I understood the different responses to my deviance to the social norm. It was clear that personal space distance varied and people do different things to ensure they return to their comfort zone. It was unbearable to see a stranger get annoyed due to the invasion as well as the looks from other passerby's. The other people around looked as if they were shocked by my action and it made them uncomfortable as well. 

Lessons from the Study 

Social norms are acceptable behaviors in different cultures. The personal space norm is shared across the races, cultures, and ages thou the acceptable distance varies. During the experiment, it was evident that eye contact was not maintained at very close proximity. The sensitivity to the respect of personal space depends on the person's personality, age, culture, and race. The act of deviance satisfies the different theories in place such as conformity, rebellion, innovation, retreatism, and ritualism. This theory justifies the reactions from the participants as well as the disapproval of my behavior by the entire society (those individuals on the street). 

It was noted that each individual has space they call theirs and they do whatever it takes to protect it. I was able to note that, just as I do not like my space to be invaded, it is equally unbearable to others if their space is intruded. Personal space is an unwritten rule that is learned from the people around us, how close parents allow people to them determines how their children will be close to others when they are adults. 

Social norm deviance can result in aggressive actions from the subject. This is because the male subjects almost went physical when I moved closer and closer to them. The reactions a subject manifests are a reflex action and they do not have control over the decisions they make. In some cultures, deviance is very much unacceptable and can result in being termed as a social outcast. It is essential to have a clear understanding of what is socially acceptable to them. Respecting other people's culture and being sensitive to how they respond to some action is vital in understanding what is acceptable to them. 


Social norms are socially accepted behavior that is learned by the individuals leaving in that setting. These are rules that must be an observed failure to which is seen as deviance to the social norm. Personal space is a social norm that is available in different cultures thou at different levels. Some people require a large distance from their bodies as compared to others. Despite the mechanism of response, each person responds to create enough space to make themselves comfortable. The deviance of the social norm makes the community uncomfortable as well as the individual whose space is invaded. To fit in a society, one learns the social norms and values whether they agree with them or they are just conforming to fir that setting. Culture and age are the key determinants of how deviance can be tolerated, children below the age of five invading personal space of an adult are not perceived as deviances to both male and female as well as acceptable in different cultures and races. For people to live together peacefully, there is a need for them to observe social norms all the time. In cases where a person does not agree with the norm, one should conform to them as they cannot single-handedly change what is socially accepted in the setting. 


Cialdini, R. B., & Trost, M. (2008). Social influence: Social norms, conformity, and compliance. (S. T. D. T. Gilbert, Ed.) New York NY US: McGraw-Hill. 

Dean, L. M., Willis, F. N., & Rocco, J. M. (2006). Invasion of Personal Space as a Function of Age, Sex, and Race. Sage Journals, 38 (3), 959-965. doi:https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1976.38.3.959 

Fisher, J. D., & Byrne, D. (2015). Too close for comfort: Sex differences in response to invasions of personal space. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32 (1), 15-21. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0076837 

H.Telzer, E., Hoorn, J., R.Rogers, C., & T.Do, K. (2018). Chapter Seven - Social Influence on Positive Youth Development: A Developmental Neuroscience Perspective. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 54 , 215-258. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.acdb.2017.10.003 

Hayduk, L. A. (2008). Personal space: An evaluative and orienting overview. Psychological Bulletin, 85 (1), 117-134. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.85.1.117 

Hayduk, L. A. (2013). Personal space: Where we now stand. Psychological Bulletin, 94 (2), 293-335. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.94.2.293 

Khan, Younus, A., Kamal, & Anila. (2010). Exploring Reactions to Invasion of Personal Space in University Students. Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 20 (2). 

Katsikitis. M. & Brebner, J. . (2011). Individual differences in the effects of personal space invasion: A test of the Brebner-Cooper model of extraversion. Personality and Individual Differences, 2 (1), 5-10. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/0191-8869(81)90046-5 

Miller, S. G. (2016). Debate 2016: What Goes on in Your Brain When People Invade Your Personal Space? LiveScience

Sundstrom, E., & Altman, I. (2006). Interpersonal relationships and personal space: Research review and theoretical model. Human Ecology , 47–67. 

Terry, R., & Lower, M. (2009). Perceptual Withdrawal from an Invasion of Personal Space: A Methodological Note. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 396-397. DOI: 10.1177/014616727900500326 

The Guardian. (1999). Keep your distance. The Guardian .

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