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The Inviolable, Invisible Bubble

Most of us would like to believe we don't have much in common with the kind of people who bully other road users.

New psychological research suggests that air rage, road rage and other seemingly irrational outbursts of wild-eyed fury could be extreme reactions to the violation of a set of rules that governs our every waking moment: the unwritten and unconscious system of body space.

Evidence suggests that we need this space to stay sane.

"We walk around in a sort of invisible bubble," says Phil Leather, head of Nottingham University's social and environmental research group.

"It's egg-shaped, because we allow people to come closer from in front rather than behind. An entire language is expressed via the amount of distance we choose to keep between each other."

In Northern Europe and North America, lovers, close friends and wrestling partners aside - the average depth of the bubble at the front is between two and three feet.

When this is intruded upon, the physiological responses can range from feelings of mild annoyance and tension to a pounding heart, raised blood pressure, sweating and severe anxiety.

For those with a propensity to aggression, the invisible bubble seems to mean much more and this can be worrying for the rest of us. We can invade it unknowingly.

People in prison for violent crimes have a bigger need for personal space than those convicted for non-violent crimes. So even when you're at a distance that's acceptable to most people, you're already too close to these violence-prone people and they become extremely furious.

Police and prison officers reporting incidents of violence often say that everything would be fine until they reached forward to reassure someone by touching him on the shoulder, and then everything exploded.

The air steward who confronts a drunken passenger is caught in a bind: the point at which the steward moves closer to offer a calming touch is also the very moment the personal bubble is at its largest and the most brittle.

The bubble is made up of four concentric layers, according to an American sociologist, Edward T. Hall. Invasion of the first layer, the intimate distance, from zero to 45 cm from the body "in public is not considered proper by adult, middle-class Americans".

Personal distance follows next at 0.5 m to 1 in from the body. For impersonal interactions, we opt for a social distance of 1.2 m to 3.6 m and finally the public distance is defined at 3.6 m and beyond.

Most of us don't flip into tantrums of uncontrollable rage when a layer is invaded. But we do sub-consciously employ a number of techniques to preserve the integrity of our personal space, either by pretending that the violation hasn't occurred or by finding ways to vent our mounting fury.

Robert Sommer, a psychologist at the University of California-Davis conducted a research by invading other people's private zones. Sommer wandered around the university library, sitting in chairs deemed out of bounds by the laws of personal space.

He reported that tension levels increased hugely when space was invaded. Students grew irritated, anxious, fidgety and then got up and left.

     
  1.

According to the author, why do people suddenly fly into a rage ?

       
    (A) They are furious with the other person.
    (B) They do not know how to control their aggression.
    (C)

Their personal space has been intruded upon.

    (D) They feel that they are unable to control body space.
       
  2.

Why do you think we allow people to come closer to us from the front rather than from the back ?

       
    (A)

We can observe the person and his actions.

    (B) We are afraid that we'll be stabbed in the back.
    (C) We want to protect our back.
    (D) We are able to step forward easily than walk backwards.
       
  3.

What is meant by the expression then everything exploded.

       
    (A) There was a sudden explosion.
    (B) There was confusion everywhere.
    (C)

The person flew into a rage.

    (D) There was panic everywhere.
       
  4.

Which of the following actions typically carried out in the first layer of zero to 45 cm from the body ?

       
    (A) Shaking hands with someone.
    (B)

Hugging and kissing someone.

    (C) Walking hand in hand with someone.
    (D) Singing to someone.
       
  5.

When talking to a friend, what seems to be the appropriate distance ?

       
    (A) 0 - 45
    (B) 0.5 m - 1 m
    (C)

1.2 m - 3.6 m

    (D) 3.6 m - beyond
       
  6. When non-aggressive persons feel that their personal space has been invaded by strangers, what is the ultimate action they will take ?
       
    (A) Become irritated
    (B) Grow anxious
    (C)

Leave the vicinity

    (D) Become increasingly fidgety
       
  7. What insight can you draw from this article ?
       
    (A) Stay away from people.
    (B) Keep a safe distance from people.
    (C)

Keep a respectable distance from people.

    (D) Don't get involved with people.
       
           
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  Answers : 1) C    2) A    3) C    4) B    5) C     6) C     7) C
 
 
 
 
 

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