Social Norms and Personal Space Term Paper

Pages: 9 (2470 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage

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[. . .] As he commented on last weekend's game, I walked closer.

The first time I broke the 1.5-foot barrier, Billy looked confused but said nothing. Instead, he broke into another brisk run. The next time it happened, however, he gave me a friendly shove and said "Scoot over, man. You stink." The remark was phrased as a friendly joke, although Bill was clearly uncomfortable with the proximity.

A few nights later, I tried the same experiment again. This time, we were at a sports bar, watching the play-offs. This time, Billy showed no obvious discomfort and we remained focused on the game. However, I attribute the lack of discomfort to the fact that the place was crowded and noisy. Most patrons thus had to lean close to each other simply to be heard.

Annette

As we were walking to the shelves, I asked Annette about the book. She replied that she had not read it yet, but she had read the author's previous work. Her tone was friendly and she seemed to be at ease.

However, as she knelt on the floor to scan the bottom shelves, my discomfort at being perceived as a predator kept me from getting too close. Instead, I opted for a less intrusive approach of kneeling beside her and leaning closer as we looked for the book. At first, she simply moved away. When I leaned close enough to bump her shoulder, she stood up and said that she was going to look for the book "in the back."

At this time, her tone was clipped and curt, a marked difference from her tone earlier. She additionally added that I could pick the book up at the cashier's counter, an action I ascribed at least partly to the fact that she did not want to deal with me any longer.

Karen

During a weekend visit home, I literally got into Karen's face on several occasions. As I expected, Karen let me know immediately that she found my actions unpleasant. In contrast to Billy, who framed his "go away" message as a joke, Karen simply told me to move away. At first, she explained that my behavior was "distracting." As she got more annoyed, her language grew less friendly. The last warning was a threat, saying she would kick me if I did not stop bothering her.

Of all respondents, however, Karen tolerated the greatest incursion into her personal distance. She did not react until I was inches away from her. Even then, she found my behavior annoying and a "bother," rather than threatening.

Synthesis of results

In these various instances, the subjects experienced various levels of discomfort with my close proximity. In addition to the subjects, knowingly breaking the norms of proximity proved difficult for me as well.

The biggest factor in determining this discomfort was my relationship with the subject. Because of this, the experiment caused me the least discomfort with my sister Karen. The importance of this relationship held true for Karen as well, as it took much more proximity to invade her personal distance. For example, she did not react when we were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the couch.

However, when I bumped shoulders with Annette at Borders, she was clearly uncomfortable with my behavior. She assumed a curt tone and made an excuse to get away. Similarly, Jane took great pains to erect a barrier between us, first using her binder and later, our classmate.

Personal distance is also largely determined by the social context. Thus, Billy found the close proximity discomfiting while we were running on the trail, where there was a lot of open space. However, in the bar, the close distance was explainable by the noise and the crowd. Billy was therefore not disturbed by this proximity.

Another major factor that affected the subjects' perceptions regarding personal distance was gender. This worked to cause discomfort both for myself and for Jane and Annette. With Karen, there was no danger of my behavior being labeled as sexual in nature. Because of this, I found it easier to break the 1.5-foot barrier with her.

However, with Jane and Annette, I was very worried that my behavior might be labeled as harassment. I therefore felt a strong need to explain my actions to Jane, largely because I was going to see her again throughout the school year. I also hoped for a chance to explain my behavior to Annette, although I never saw her again. However, I resolved to avoid going to Borders for at least the next few weeks.

In summary, breaking the norm regarding personal distance caused varying degrees of discomfort, for myself as well as the subjects of my experiments. This discomfort was mitigated by the social context, my relationship with the subject and by the subject's gender.

Sociological significance

In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman (1959) likens society to a stage. People are all actors who play several roles - father, son, friend. The way people interact or "present" themselves are governed by social rules that regulate acceptable behavior.

Because much of communication is non-verbal, it therefore becomes essential to recognize the meaning of these norms. As illustrated by the case with Annette and Jane, some of these norms evolved to govern more than simple interpersonal communication. In this case, the prescribed distance also dictates norms relating to acceptable behavior between the sexes.

In conclusion, the way people follow social norms such as personal distances during face-to-face communications serve as signals regarding one's values, characteristics and intentions. In this way, norms serve an important cohesive value that bridge people together. The act itself of breaking these norms sends a powerful message, a message whose interpretation varies according to the prevailing social context.

Works Cited

Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Social Norms and Personal Space.  (2003, May 11).  Retrieved January 28, 2020, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/social-norms-personal-space/7757463

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"Social Norms and Personal Space."  Essaytown.com.  May 11, 2003.  Accessed January 28, 2020.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/social-norms-personal-space/7757463.