Face-to-face meetings are creeping back into our daily lives after more than a year of social-distancing. A steep decline in coronavirus transmission rates and an increasing number of vaccinations are two of the big reasons why.
But how comfortable will you be with this shift back to in-person social interaction?
Researchers in the United States say the personal-space boundary during the pre-pandemic norm was about 3 feet with strangers and a little more than 2 feet with an acquaintance, according to a study published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology in 2017.
But now, a year of staying 6 feet apart could have you feeling crowded — even if others are maintaining what used to be considered an accepted distance.
CapRadio’s Randol White spoke with Cal State Northridge Communications Studies Professor Kathryn Sorrells about how the pandemic may alter our perceptions regarding what’s comfortable.
Has constant messaging of “stay 6 feet apart” affected what we perceive as a comfortable personal space boundary?
Yeah, I think it has, at least temporarily. You know, I think when you walk through the grocery store, more people are conscious of that and staying distant. The thing is, when it's people that we know, we're not as really conscious of how close they are because that's a little bit more acceptable. It's when we people we don't know that we realize, oh, 6 feet is even farther than what we would normally try to keep. Right. So people are becoming more aware of that.
My sense of it and my experience here in Los Angeles is that it does depend on whether we have a — literally can afford — and I mean that literally afford to have that distance. So in some spaces, people have to get closer because of their work or because of their living conditions and situations. But I do believe overall people are more conscious of the distance between themselves and others than we were before.
While temporary for some, could a generation of children see more permanent effects?
Well, I think this is going to be interesting to see. … Are we people a little bit more cautious about engaging closely and children perhaps? And what are the emotional what are the psychological issues? I know a number of people I've talked to, even as we open up … it's more likely that people are going to meet face-to-face. There's a little hesitancy, like, “Do I remember how to engage with people in that way?” So, yes, I think that probably if it's a year or, you know, a year and a half that, you know, as we get back, human beings are very flexible. So we'll shift back into the old patterns because those are much more deeply ingrained. And it's not so much what an individual thinks or wants, because this is a real collective thing. It's about the people around you.
Do you think there might be some positives that come out of this year of social separation?
I do. I think that the physical contact and the actual interpersonal relationships, the face-to-face. So many people talk about just missing having people right there. That and it actually affects our biorhythms. It affects our heart. It affects our bodies. So I think people will kind of see like, “Oh, I miss that. This is important. I value it.” So I do think that's a possible upside of the whole very devastating pandemic.
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