Expert Pitch

Social Distancing Pioneer Urges Physical Distance, Not Social Distance

Rutgers psychology professor John Aiello is available to discuss personal space as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic. Aiello is a pioneer on what we now call “social distancing” and is an expert in proxemics, the study of how people use space to interact.

“While the message of ‘social distancing’ is already out there, we must start to use the term ‘physical distancing along with 'social distancing’” Aiello said. “We should not be ‘social distancing,’ but we should stay at least 6 feet away from each other. ‘Social distancing’ gives the implication that people cannot communicate with one another, but, in fact, communication is necessary during this time to stay mentally and physically healthy.

“There are distance zones that have been investigated and studied in proxemics,” Aiello added. “The ‘intimate distance zone’ is 18 inches apart, the ‘personal distance zone’ is 1.4 to 5 feet apart and the ‘social distance zone’ begins at about 7 feet. Whether or not the phrase ‘social distancing’ was derived from this zone, we should continue to keep our physical distance and stay connected virtually. The effects of feelings of isolation and loneliness are often very harmful."

If someone does come into your space, Aiello added, "It would not be inappropriate (even with friends) to step back to maintain 6' or more distance.”

Aiello’s research includes spatial behavior and the consequences of environmental stress, including crowding behavior and stress.

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