ScienceDaily (2011-04-13) - We all move around in a protective bubble of "near space," more commonly known as "personal space." But not everyone's bubble is the same size. People who project their personal space too far beyond their bodies, or the norm of arm's reach, are more likely to experience claustrophobic fear, a new study finds. The study is one of the first to focus on the perceptual mechanisms of claustrophobic fear. While the subjects who have higher levels of claustrophobic fear underestimate horizontal distances, those who have more acrophobic fear (fear of heights) overestimate vertical distances.

Dr. Stephanie says:

I thought claustrophobia evolved from the fear of being buried alive, and some people just have a stronger fear mechanism than others. I never considered that it had to do with personal space. Another way to determine "normal" personal space distance, besides arm length, is the distance of a hula hoop. I use the "hula hoop" technique to teach appropriate personal distance. Put a hula hoop between (not around!) you and another person. In the U.S., that is generally considered appropriate personal distance. Appropriate personal distance does vary by culture - in some cultures, a shorter personal space is the norm. It's always fun switching from one "norm" of personal distance to another. It makes for interesting conversations. :)

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110412065809.htm

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