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TUCoPS :: Wetware Hacking :: Others :: nonverbl.txt

Non-verbal communication

Fr: Joyce Neu (814) 865-7365" <JN0@PSUVM.PSU.EDU> 
To: Multiple recipients of list XCULT-L@PSUVM.BITNET

                  *   Intercultural Newsletter #7:   * 
                  *                                   * 
                  * Nonverbal Communication, Emphasis * 
                  *         on Personal Space         * 
                  *                                   * 
                  *     Spcom 497A - Dr. Joyce Neu    * 
       Hello again from the MCBIMDAVIG's.  The many aspects of nonverbal 
communication include eye gaze, gestures, posture, touching, paralinguistics, 
and personal space. Personal space will be the focus of our second and final 
newsletter*.  During communication, many cultures have certain distances that  
are considered to be acceptable and polite which vary depending on the nature 
of the communication.  Why should one be interested in this topic?   Why is it 
so important?    In his research, Dr. Edward Hall writes that culture plays a 
definitive role in determining how individuals use personal space. When people 
of different cultures come into contact, they may understand each other just 
fine on a verbal level, however the distance that is maintained between them 
may relay a totally different message that the speaker has not intended. 
As a result, serious offense may occur.  Throughout this newsletter we will 
be discussing the topic in greater detail. 
    One area in which personal distances has been studied are seating 
arrangements.  Researchers have examined seating arrangements from the 
perspectives of distance and orientation. They have found that a shorter 
distance implies greater intimacy while orientation or the position of those 
seated had no relation to intimacy.  One may think this study to be trival, but
who can recall the Paris Peace Conference of years back, where hostilities 
among those involved in the Vietnam War continued, while leaders argued how 
they should be seated in relation to one another. 
    In face to face communication each individual has a certain amount of 
desired "personal space." If a person is talking with another person from his 
or her own culture, personal space is usually taken for granted and is not a 
problem.  However, when talking with someone from a different culture, personal
space becomes very important.  Different cultures have different views on what 
is a comfortable amount of personal space.  If a person's space is violated 
that person tends to try and find a way to reach a comfortable distance.  This 
is often done unconsciously and the person who is being violated will move 
around to reach his or her desired space.  For example, if you are used to 
talking face to face from about four feet away you will try and keep this four 
foot relationship throughout the conversation.  If the other individual is used
to a two foot distance, he or she will try and maintain that.  That peron will 
unknowingly keep moving closer to you while you keep backing up to your desired
four foot distance.  Studies have shown that a person who has their personal
space violated tends to be more aggressive and have a higher level of arousal. 
It is important to know the concepts of personal space of the other cultures 
that you may encounter because different cultures react differently to the 
constant violation of personal space.  One culture may think nothing of it, 
while others consider it rude and may avoid communicating with you until you 
realize the problem.   The idea of personal space and proxemics is often over- 
looked when dealing with intercultural communication.  Proxemics is usually not
noticed until someone's space has been violated and a problem has arisen.  It 
is better to consider personal space prior to an interaction with another 
cultrure in order to avoid any unnecessary problems and make the communication 
that much easier and enjoyable. 
 My own personal experience with violation of personal space occurred when I 
was in Sweden.  Swedes usually get just a little bit closer than Americans 
when talking face to face.  Although this was not a major problem for me, it 
was one that took a little while to get used too.  While I was there I spent 
a lot of time with a family from Saudi Arabia.  This family was used to a 
distance that was much closer than the one I was used too.  The distance they 
found comfortable, about two feet, was what I would consider an intimate 
distance, not a casual one.  In this case, I could live with it and talk about 
it because it was under casual circumstances.  However, in a business deal or 
more formal setting the problem may become a major factor in the outcome of the
     In her paper, "Beyond Hall," Colleen Dolphin states "there is a serious 
gap in the study of 'intercultural' proxemics; there appears to be very little 
work with a truly intercultural focus."  It's true that most of the experiments
that have been made are based on intracultural or, at the most, cross-cultural 
interaction.  However, we found that although people from different cultures 
have different perceptions about personal space differences, they tend to 
react similarly in certain situations, i.e. when someone gets too close, they 
back up, and they feel that the person is being pushy, or aggressive or 
whatever, and it leaves a bad impression of that person in their mind.  We 
talked to people from various cultures, and all of them said they would 
react negatively when someone invades their personal space; however, each of 
them had different definitions about what constituted "personal space."  One 
study conducted on this subject, by Colleen Dolphin herself, explores other 
factors that affect the determining of personal space, such as age, sex, 
relationship, environment, and ethnic co-cultures, which she feels "play 
equally important roles in determining use of personal space."  She found 
that they definitely did affect it, and "particularly in the cases of age 
and relationship, supercede any cultural aspects of the transaction." 
The type of culture a person is from, regarding contact and noncontact 
cultures, also seems to affect people's perception of personal space. 
Researchers have found that people from  contact cultures choose closer 
distances, have and keep more direct eye contact, touch each other more 
frequently, and speak louder than people from noncontact cultures. 
Other studies that have been done, although not intercultural in nature, have 
the potential to be helpful in an intercultural situation, because they 
tend to make us aware of how we react, and that not all people react the 
same. There was an interesting study done on white males that examined how 
they adjust their personal space differences, based on certain circumstances. 
The first study showed that men who had been socially isolated previous to 
the encounter chose greater distances than those who had not.  When the men 
believed that the interaction would be observed by others, rather than 
private, they also chose greater distances, as shown in the second study. 
The third study pointed out a correlation between the topic of the conversation
and the expected length of it, with the greatest distance being chosen when 
the topic was personal in nature, and the conversation was expected to be long.

The fourth study examined how room size and shape affect personal distance. 
The research concluded that only in rectangular rooms did the size affect 
personal distancing.  Although many interesting studies have been done on 
this subject, I will only cover one more.  This study reveale that people with 
low self-esteem decreased their expressions drastically when they were 
interacting with people at close distances, whereas people with high self- 
esteems reacted the basically the same regardless of the distance. 
I spent a semester abroad in Japan, and while I was there I noticed 
that the Japanese have a *very* different perception of personal 
space.  Not that it's different in regards to ours, but that within 
their culture, it's different.  Compared to our personal space, the Japanese 
choose to stand further apart.  Showing respect is very important in Japan, 
and the amount of distance between people is often a way to express respect. 
With this in mind, it is very difficult to comprehend the way people tolerate 
the tremendous crowding that happens every day on the trains.  Furthermore, 
they do not express their irritation with the situation, at least not while 
they are on the train. I don't know if it bothers them, and they've just 
accepted it, and learned to live with it, or they since they've always 
had to deal with it, they just think that's the way it is, and do not 
feel the anger that we feel when we're experiencing it.  I'm not sure 
if it's a result of their different socialization, or different perception 
of the situation.  But it seems odd, because we're used to closer personal 
distances, and are not as offended if people come "a little close," and yet it 
really bothers us when we have to share a seat with someone on a crowded bus, 
whereas they don't seem to mind sharing their lap with several people.  I have 
a feeling this has to do with more than just personal distance differences. 
      In their study, "Personal Space Among Botswana and American Students," 
Drs. Jeffrey Sanders, Wayne McKim, and Ann McKim, employ the Comfortable 
Interpersonal Distance (CID) scale to determine differences in comfortable 
distances between these two cultures.  Developed in 1972 by M.P. Duke and 
S. Nowicki, the CID measures personal space.  This instrument allows research- 
ers to compare cultural variations quantitatively in order to reveal spacial 
variation in interpersonal communication between cultures.  Quantitative 
analysis helps eliminate errors in research due to a researcher's own cultural 
     The Sanders, McKim, McKim study provides a sophisticated statistical 
analysis the perceptions of comfortable space between groups comprising of 
37 male and 37 female students from Towson State University in Maryland and 
Botswana University.  The analysis measured spatial differences between 
friends, starangers, the same sex, and the opposite sex.  They reported, 
     Regardless of nationality, strangers were kept farther away than 
     friends, F(1,44) = 437.7,p < .001, and both sexes kept male strangers 
     farther away than female strangers, F(1,144) = 7.55, p < .01. 
This statistical notation may be confusing to readers not familiar with 
the CID scale, however, the above quote demonstrates how imperical data is 
recorded and used to determine cultural differences in spatial perceptions. 
This particular study found that Botswana University students maintained 
greater distances for approaching strangers than Americans.  They reported 
no other significant differences between cultures.  Similar studies have 
found that native Puerto Ricans living in New York use less distance than 
native New Yorkers, Pagan and Aiello (1982).  A study by Sanders, Hakky, and 
Brizzolara (1985) reveal that the use of personal space between Americans 
and Egyptians differs significantly.  Egyptians maintain what Americans 
would consider intimate distance with their friends.  However, Egyptian 
females keep male friends at the same distance they keep strangers.  The 
researchers concluded that this, "probably reflects social norms restricting 
male-female interaction."  From this we can see, personal space as a part of 
language reflects cross-cultural differences. 
In this newsletter, we have explained how perceptions of comfortable 
personal space differs between cultures, given some examples of research 
being conducted in the field of proxemics, and shown how different perceptions 
of comfortable distance can pose a stumbling block to successful inter- 
cultural communication.  We hope that acknowledging the fact that these 
differences exist will help us all understand that people we talk to from 
other cultures may stand closer or farther than we consider normal. 
Empathizing with this situation will help alleviate problems in inter- 
cultural communication. 
Thank you, 
Laurie D'Auria  (LAD103) 
Dimitri Vomvouras  (DVX109) 
Matt Baggett  (MMB104) 
Lauren McCain (LAM105) 
     =                                                           = 
     =   is written by students in Speech Communication 497A     = 
     =                  PENN STATE UNIVERSITY                    = 
     =           and distributed by Professor Joyce Neu          = 
     =                                                           = 
     =         XCULT-L is an unmoderated list open to all        = 

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