Big Picture: Personal space

Download PDF for photo by Peter Forster (University of Worcester), who wins our first ever photography competition. ‘Big picture’ ideas? [email protected]

‘I took this picture in May 2010, close to where I lived in Tiwi, in the Northern Territory of Australia. The students were waiting for the bus to their school and the student on the right of the picture was at the front of the queue where the bus would stop. The same students waited here every school day, and I never saw them speaking to each other.
‘We use proxemics or personal space as part of managing the balance between being closed or open to others. Our personal space is influenced by many things including culture, gender, social status, whether or not we have an intact amygdala… this picture illustrates interactions between some of these factors.

‘Any psychologist who wants to work with Aboriginal Australians, for example, would do well to recognise the different uses of personal space as exemplified here, as well as related factors such as eye contact and not adopting an authoritarian stance.

‘All were aware of my presence… note their different use of eye contact towards an old, white male photographer.

‘I can’t say that I am a skilful user of proxemics but, as a well-travelled psychologist, I am at least aware of its power in becoming accepted in a new country and culture.

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