Furman University

Why social distancing is so difficult; how research explains our behavior

18-Mar-2020 11:30 AM EDT, by Furman University

Newswise — The global pandemic of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has called into question everything our culture has taught us about how we space ourselves in relation to other people. By now, we're all familiar with the concept of social distancing. But, why is social distancing so hard for us to do? 

The answer is that it goes against every cultural norm of communication we have adopted over our lifetimes. The simple action of declining to engage with each other at personal distance feels awkward because it's not what we've been trained to do with people we like. It's what we've been trained to do with people we don't like.

Here’s what proxemics - the study of how humans use space – tells us about this learned behavior:

All of us humans constantly do the work of negotiating the physical distance between ourselves and other people. When we see someone who looks scary or unusual to us, we subconsciously move farther away from them. When we see someone who appears attractive or trustworthy, we move closer. When we take these actions, we are negotiating space and distance, often without even realizing what we are doing.  

Back in the 1960s, Edward T. Hall described four distances that we place between people: public, social, personal and intimate. When we see people we know and trust, we invite them closer to us. This typically brings them across our boundary from social distance (6-12 feet) into personal distance (1.5-6 feet, or within arm's reach). We like to bring people into personal distance with us. It feels comfortable and friendly, and it is.  

And, just for the record, humans aren't the only ones who prefer nicely spaced but still personal distances. Next time you see birds on a wire, look at how closely and evenly spaced they are. Hall also observed this behavior among pigs feeding at troughs.

When people move into our personal space, typically, we've invited them to do so. That invitation is reflected in the fact that we don't back away when a friend or neighbor crosses the boundary from social distance to personal distance (at about 6 feet). We accept the invitation.

We really notice personal distance when a stranger or unknown individual crosses that boundary from social distance into personal distance. Immediately, we might take a step back or to the side, or we might verbally address the barrier-breaker with a hefty "watch-out" or a subtle "excuse me." We decline the invitation.

Here's the thing about social distancing. When we try to create social distance with our friends, that action feels like we've declined an invitation – an invitation to friendship, to knowing and being known, to caring and to camaraderie.

Social distancing as love

Public health officials worldwide have called on all of us to do our part to create social distance. It is awkward. It seems weird. Because it feels impersonal. Social distancing feels like rejection.

But we need to do it. In a public health crisis, social distancing is not an act of rejection. It's not even an act of fear. Social distancing is an act of love.

Social distancing is a concern for our friends that says, "If I have coronavirus, I don't want to spread it to you. And, I know you feel the same about me." 

We can conquer the feeling that it’s unfriendly by reminding ourselves that social distancing is the friendly thing to do, at this time, for now.

We can do it, if we work together.

Kids and social distancing

We don't learn how to discern social distance from personal distance until we age and our culture overtakes our natural tendency. Anyone with kids has observed that kids could care less about personal space. They touch everyone and love hugs and wrestling and cuddling.

When we participate in social distancing, our children don't yet understand the boundaries and they can't be expected to enforce them.

About the time we go through puberty, we start to recognize the cultural expectations about distances between people and we pick up on the difference between social space and personal space.

In our house, we are giving lots of hugs and staying in close personal distance to one another. But outside of it, we are not. And that requires some supervision on our part. That means that even though my backyard might be the typical neighborhood hangout for all the kids (which we love!), it can't be for now. Hopefully, by the summer, it will be again. Send the neighborhood kids home to their houses. Go on walks. Wave to the neighbors. Have virtual playdates. Take bike rides. But maintain social distance from our friends. Social distancing practices require that our children engage in it with us. And even though it feels unfriendly, social distancing might be the friendliest thing we can do.

John A. McArthur, Ph.D. is an associate professor of communication studies at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of Digital Proxemics: How technology shapes the ways we move, (a book that might be even more applicable today than it was before the global pandemic) and numerous journal articles about our use of space and place. Contact Dr. McArthur at john.mcarthur@furman.edu

 




Filters close

Showing results

1120 of 2776
Released: 3-Aug-2020 9:00 AM EDT
Neutrolis Announces Development Of First-In-Class Treatment Targeting Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs) For Patients With Severe COVID-19
Neutrolis

Novel Chromatinase™ platform could rapidly and systemically removes NETs associated with exacerbation of COVID-19

Released: 3-Aug-2020 8:55 AM EDT
American College of Radiology to Provide Image Coordination for National COVID-19 Observational Study
American College of Radiology (ACR)

The American College of Radiology® (ACR®) Center for Research and Innovation™ (CRI) will serve as the imaging coordination center for the multicenter COVID-19 Observational Study (CORAL) led by Dr. Catherine "Terri" L. Hough of the Oregon Health & Science University. The CORAL Study is part of the Prevention & Early Treatment of Acute Lung Injury (PETAL) Network, a consortium of academic and affiliated hospitals across the United States – funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health – to conduct clinical trials in patients with or at risk for critical illness, including acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Released: 3-Aug-2020 8:35 AM EDT
Evaluating the effectiveness of travel bans
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

A new study sheds light on how COVID-19 spreads regionally and between countries, as well as on how effective governmental measures to curb the spread of the pandemic have been to date.

Newswise: Engineers developing no-touch, mail-in, fast-scan test for COVID-19, other outbreaks
Released: 3-Aug-2020 8:00 AM EDT
Engineers developing no-touch, mail-in, fast-scan test for COVID-19, other outbreaks
Iowa State University

Engineers are developing a no-touch, mail-in, fast-scan diagnostic sensing system that could be used to quickly test for COVID-19 or other outbreaks. The system would also produce a real-time outbreak map with demographic details.

Newswise: Atrium Health Tele-ICU Evolves to Meet COVID-19 Challenges
30-Jul-2020 1:55 PM EDT
Atrium Health Tele-ICU Evolves to Meet COVID-19 Challenges
American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)

Atrium Health’s tele-ICU quickly adjusted its patient-centered focus to include supporting and protecting bedside nurses caring for patients in isolation, as part of the system’s planning and preparations for the pandemic.

Released: 31-Jul-2020 5:05 PM EDT
Looking up to the Joneses: Consequences of the perceptions of white wealth
Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Before the era of COVID-19, research suggested that premature deaths among white Americans were rising. Even before the era of COVID-19, these findings were surprising.

Newswise: 238996_web.jpg
Released: 31-Jul-2020 4:55 PM EDT
Pooling strategy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: A solution for mass population screening of SARS-CoV-2
Elsevier

In a report in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, published by Elsevier, researchers at Augusta University and PerkinElmer Genomics describe a cheaper, rapid, and accurate pooling strategy for the RT-PCR-based detection of SARS-CoV-2 in clinical samples.

Released: 31-Jul-2020 4:40 PM EDT
No racial disparities seen in response to remdesivir treatment of COVID-19
University of Chicago Medical Center

A new analysis by University of Chicago Medicine faculty, staff and collaborators around the world found remdesivir appears to be equally beneficial to patients regardless of race, supporting the need for early intervention and aggressive care for all patients in the fight against COVID-19.

Released: 31-Jul-2020 3:50 PM EDT
SARS-CoV-2 screening strategies for safe reopening of college campuses
JAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association

What The Study Did: This study defines the screening performance standards for SARS-CoV-2 tests that would permit the safe return of students to U.S. residential college campuses this fall. Authors: A. David Paltiel, Ph.D., of the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, is the corresponding author. To access the embargoed study: Visit our For The Media website at this link https://media.jamanetwork.com/ (doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.16818) Editor's Note: The article includes funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, conflict of interest and financial disclosures, and funding and support. ### Media advisory: The full study and commentary are linked to this news release. Embed this link to provide your readers free access to the full-text article This link will be live at the embargo time http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/1

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 4-Aug-2020 11:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 31-Jul-2020 3:15 PM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 4-Aug-2020 11:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.


Showing results

1120 of 2776

close
0.89498