By Christopher Shea
Participants in the study listened through headphones to music that inspired positive or negative emotions —instrumental music specially written for this experiment—or they wore headphones as no music played. A researcher slowly approached the participant, who signaled when he or she found the closeness uncomfortable. The experiment was repeated as music played through loudspeakers.
People listening to positive music through headphones tolerated a stranger at a closer distance (about 23.5 inches) than when there was no music (about 26 inches). The contrast with negative music played on a public speaker was even greater: People in that situation drew the line—they started to get weirded out—at about 30 inches. (That experimental condition sounds analogous to being in a public space listening to bad canned music.)
Other studies have shown that the notion of personal space varies by culture; this one showed that it can be altered by personal technology. The effect only existed, by the way, when a stranger walked toward the test subject, not when the test subject walked toward a stranger—that is, when he or she controlled the situation.
Source: “I-Space: The Effects of Emotional Valence and Source of Music on Interpersonal Distance,” Ana Tajadura-Jiménez and four other authors, PLoS ONE (October)
Via BPS Research Digest