Ethics Social Psychology

Episode 16: Personal Space Invasion: What Happens When Someone Invades Your Personal Space?

Understanding Personal Space

Every individual has a comfort zone, a boundary that, when breached, can cause discomfort. This boundary varies from person to person and setting to setting. The study of this boundary is referred to as the psychology of personal space. Delve into this topic further in this episode for current insights.

Bathroom Encounters: A Unique Study

Ever felt awkward or uneasy in a public bathroom? You’re not alone. The presence of others, especially in such a private setting, can make many feel uncomfortable. But what determines this comfort level? A groundbreaking study in 1976 attempted to answer this. Psychology researchers, in an unorthodox approach, hid in men’s restrooms. Their goal? To observe reactions and gauge personal space in the bathroom.

Results and Observations

Middlemist, Knowles, and Matter published their findings in their article titled “Personal Space Invasions in the Lavatory: Suggestive Evidence for Arousal”. The results were intriguing. The closer individuals felt others were, the more discomfort they experienced. Furthermore, this unease was not limited to just bathrooms but extended to other settings as well.

How Close is Too Close?

What the study highlighted was that our comfort levels are deeply personal. One might feel perfectly at ease standing close to a stranger in an elevator. Meanwhile, another might feel their personal space is being invaded in the same situation.


In essence, the study of personal space delves into our inherent boundaries. How we perceive space and how we react when those boundaries are tested are unique to each individual. As we go about our daily lives, it’s essential to be aware of not just our own comfort zones but those of others around us. After all, understanding and respecting personal space can lead to better social interactions and a more harmonious coexistence.

The article discussed in this episode:

Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S. & Matter, C.F. (1976). Personal Space Invasions in the Lavatory: Suggestive Evidence for Arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33 (5), 541-546.



About Author


  1. Avatar


    May 22, 2007

    The independent variable is the presence or absence of a person at the adjacent urinal. The dependent is the amount of time (number of seconds) until the start of micturation (my guess).

  2. Avatar


    May 22, 2007

    What is the independent and dependent variable?

  3. Avatar

    Paul Phillips

    May 22, 2007

    I don’t want to be gross but I have a different take on this theory.
    I think one of the reasons why you take longer to pee when someone is close to you is because you are afraid of farting if you let go of your control. As we all no doubt have experienced (I hope its not just me!), when you let your bladder go full tilt you can often fart as well (especially in the morning). I am always aware of this when there is someone near me at the urinal so I control the flow which has the side effect of it taking longer to come out.

    I have just started a course on social research and I believe this may be an example of an invisible mechanism?

    Love the podcasts by the way!

  4. Personal Space | The Psych Files Podcast « The Purple Brain

    May 22, 2007

    […] Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterStumbleUponRedditPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  5. Avatar


    May 22, 2007

    I don’t remember that line but I’ll take your word on it. I read the Hitchhiker’s Guide quite some time ago. Great book (bad movie though).

  6. Avatar

    AJ Jack

    May 22, 2007

    My friends tend to call shy bladder syndrome “stage fright”.
    Regarding the term “micturition” I first came across it in the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” where an example of Vogon poetry (the third worst poetry in the universe) is given as
    Oh freddled gruntbuggly, Thy micturations [sic]are to me As plurdled gabbleblotchits On a lurgid bee
    So Douglas Adams and psychologists have at least one thing in common.

  7. Avatar


    May 22, 2007

    As a sufferer of paruresis myself I found it interesting to know that “normal” persons have some hesitancy and reduction of voiding under situations of reduced personal space.

    Not having any specific event or series of events that I can point to that may have lead to my condition I can only assume that it began as subtle self consciousness of the time taken to begin urinating.

    I would be interested to know if any of the 60 participants failed to void.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like

Social Psychology

Episode #4: On Birds Flocking and Opposites Attracting: the data on Love

Do Birds of a Feather Flock together or do Opposites Attract? Find out which proverb is correct in this episode.
Cognition, Intelligence and Language Social Psychology

Episode 7: Blaming the Victim and other Attribution Biases

Blaming the victim - why do we do it? Are rape victims responsible for what happens to them? Are victims