Don’t Stand So Close To Me: Introverts and Proxemics

I recently wrote an article for Interesting Thing of the Day about Proxemics, the study of how people manage the space around them. This has obvious resonance for introverts, who often find interactions with people at a polite distance to be draining, let alone if those people are in even closer range.

In the article I mention that different cultures seem to approach the issue of personal space in a variety of ways; one’s idea of “normal” and “comfortable” distances may be influenced by what a certain community values. Keeping one’s distance may seem cold or unfriendly in one instance, and polite and respectful in another (although individuals within each community have their own standards as well). Without drawing broad generalizations, I think understanding that others have different expectations around personal space can sometimes defuse frustration and annoyance.

That being said, it does raise the question of how introverts are shaped by their environment. Not being a neuroscientist, or scientist of any sort, I can’t comment on the universal prevalence of introverted individuals, nor how such individuals may adapt to circumstances that discourage typical introverted behavior. I’d be very curious to know if there are professed introverts out there who are nonetheless comfortable being in very close quarters with others (meaning strangers and acquaintances, not friends and loved ones of course).

On another note, the title of this post, while being relevant to the topic, is also an acknowledgment of the recent reunion and planned tour of one of my favorite bands, The Police. You can find details about their tour schedule here. Speaking of crowds…

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6 Responses to “Don’t Stand So Close To Me: Introverts and Proxemics”

  1. Carolyn said:

    I am an introvert. When it comes to determining the amount of space needed, I must have control otherwise the need to flee takes over. When I am with one person this can be controlled fairly easily unles someone who you dislike is purposely “in your face”. But then again , escape ASAP works in this case. In a crowd situation, I still much prefer one-on-one communication, so there is more control and less stress. I stay away from the exta extroverts who want to be 5 inches from your face. Anything within 5 inches needs to either be married to me or born to me.

  2. spectatrix said:


    I love it! “Married to me or born to me.” I’ll have to try that out next time someone gets a little too close.

  3. Ben said:

    I’m somewhat of an introvert, and while I can deal with crowds, they often make me feel very anxious and edgy. I prefer people to keep their distance, and I’ve evolved an unfortunate habit of becoming more aloof and rude the closer people get to me.

    This can be rather unfortunate since there tend to be crowds fairly often where I live. C’est la vie.

  4. spectatrix said:


    I really relate about feeling anxious and edgy in crowds. Just last weekend Joe and I went to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, probably the most crowded and touristy area of the city (serves us right for going there, I guess), and I had one of those awful crowd moments. We were standing in line for a streetcar and a tour group decided they all needed to board together, meaning the stragglers crammed right in front of us to join their friends. When this kind of thing happens, I get really panicky and restless, and feel like I need to escape the situation right away. But since we needed to get home, I stayed in line and counted the seconds until I could leave the crowd behind.

  5. Karla said:

    The space issue can be tricky sometimes. I agree wholeheartedly that being in a crowded place is an anxiety-attack provoking situation. However, that being said, when I’m in a professional setting and forced to be close to new and/or unknown people, it’s not so bad. In fact, whenever it’s necessary, I sometimes utilize physical proximity as an intimidation tactic (which is hilarious since I’m 5’2). It flies in the face of my intense introvertedness, and afterwards I am always even more exhausted than if I had been in a crowd. The emotion carries me through the moment I guess.

  6. Chocolatesa said:

    It doesn’t bother me much, I’m used to being crammed on over-full public transport twice a day. I either doze off or sit thinking in my own world, or subtly studying the people around me.