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A new study shows how where you come from can affect how comfortable you are in close quarters. 

May 02, 2017

The personal space we feel comfortable with can vary, and a new study in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology reveals that cultural norms, gender, age, and even weather can play a role in these preferences.

In the study, titled “Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison,” researchers reached out to 8,943 people from 42 different countries around the world to learn how close they could get to another person while still feeling comfortable.

Participants were given a graphic that they would use to indicate the numeric point at which they would no longer feel comfortable in proximity to a stranger, a close friend, and an acquaintance.

Courtesy of “Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison; from the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.

The results found that the country where participants wanted the most distance from a stranger was Romania, with the comfort level being at a distance of roughly 140 centimeters, followed by Hungary, with a distance of roughly 131 centimeters, and then Saudi Arabia, at roughly 127 centimeters.

Meanwhile, participants from Argentina, Peru, and Bulgaria were the most comfortable being up close to strangers at distances of roughly 77 centimeters, 80 centimeters, and 81 centimeters, respectively.

When it came to acquaintances, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, and Uganda preferred to be the furthest apart, while Argentina, Peru, and Bulgaria were fine with being the closest.

Finally, when it came to close friends, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, and Canada preferred the greatest distance, while participants in Ukraine, Argentina, and Germany felt the most comfortable in close-range.

Courtesy of “Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison; from the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.

Overall, women preferred more distance than men across the board, with older participants also preferring more space.

Courtesy of “Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison; from the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.

Interestingly enough, the results also revealed that participants in warmer countries tended to be better with closeness to strangers, while people in colder countries needed less space when it came to intimate relationships.

While the study does rely on participants’ judgments of personal space rather than behavioral observations, it still provides a fascinating look at how these preferences can vary around the world. 

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