Fences around our homes have become commonplace showing a greater need for us to protect what little space we own, in a rapidly expanding population, that finds itself in a shrinking community. Apartment style housing and condominiums however, prove that as land availability shrinks, our tolerance for density is increasing. As we shall see, habitation density controls personal space tolerances, that is, it controls how much empty space we require around our bodies when near other people. However we look at property and personal space, one thing is true, everyone fights to defend it.
We see this battle amongst children who fight for the front passenger seat in an automobile or among college students for the best seat on the sofa. We can also see it with office employees who fight for the best seats at the conference table, or even the best offices (usually the biggest or with the brightest window or best view). Once a territory is claimed, ownership is marked. We can mark our territory by leaving personal artifacts such as a jacket across the back of a chair or a book on a seat to reserve it. We sometimes even go so far as hiring friends as guards to hold and protect our territories when space is limited, or hold our cue in line. Status in a hierarchy alone can serve to protect territories. For example, no one would contest the boss’s or Dad’s seat at the head of the table. Curiously even habit can reserve a territory. Seating in large auditoriums (several hundred seats) in university settings is rarely assigned, yet habit says that students sit in the same general areas class after class, while most sit in the very same seat each lecture. Being usurped of a seat that has been reserved through this repeated claim can be upsetting even though no written rules exist.
As spaces become more crowded our natural response is to guard our territories with even more fervor. Cues and lines are a prime example. The longer the line and greater the wait, the more aggression people will hold against those that jump cue. Disney world has a strict no cue jumping policy for this reason. Cues are an interesting way of defining territory if you really think about it. Cues are eternally moving, and changing, yet we guard our relation to others and our nearness to our goal, whatever it might be. It has been shown that particularly violence-prone individuals such as criminals tend to have much wider personal space requirements than regular people. What seems like miles to us, might seem like inches to them. This is why respecting nonverbal body language that indicates aggression related to space invasion is vitally important so we don’t cause what is called “intrusion panic.” Incidentally, babies also suffer from panic when strangers get to close so respecting personal space goes across all people (animals too), and even while driving – hence the term “road rage.” Setting someone off who has tendencies to react physically can be disastrous and we never really know what type of person we are interacting with at a given occasion since we deal with so many strangers on a daily basis.
By examining a crowded beach area we can see rules that create territories. Our friends and family will ban together with towels and other beach artifacts to ward off others. The efficiency of the group due to its common interest allows it to expand by creating space amongst and between its members producing even more space for itself, a luxury not experienced by a single person or even a couple. Banding with others creates strength and when interests align we tend to clump and form pairs, clans, gangs, groups and so forth. If a new or better stake of land becomes available we quickly motion our troops to action, we pull up stake, and move quickly. In high stakes environments we might even send a brave individual from our clan to put up the first claim. Usually we follow first come takes claim because it is found to be a fair enough rule to abide by. Because we live in a civilized society and we jostle over generally trivial stakes our rules prohibit physical altercations.
Above: How close is too close.