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Proxemics and Gender

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The distance or personal space between individuals can vary between genders. This is sometimes known as proxemics. Does our gender really dictate how we determine what appropriate space between one another is?  Is equal distance used when interacting with our own gender or is it different for people of the opposite gender?   Steven Madden, with the University of North Dakota, commissioned a study to “(a) identify gender differences as they relate to spatial usage and (b) to test the assertion that females’ space is “violated” more often than males” (p. 41).

The study hypothesized that more participants would approach the female assistant closer but in actuality found the opposite. Madden observed how 506 people in a public setting and their gender affected the distance and approach between males and females. Madden’s study had 292 of the participants approach a male research assistant and 214 approached the female assistants. It breaks down to 206 females approached a male and 137 females approached a female. The males did not seem to display any preference. Of the male participants, 77 approached female assistants and 86 approached the male assistant. The research showed that regardless of gender choice, the females more often chose to approach a male research assistant more often and at a closer distance than a female research assistant. The females would also wait in lines to go to a male assistant over a female.

Madden also hypothesized the respondents regardless of their gender would approach the female assistant at a closer distance than the male assistants.  Results showed female participants approached the male assistant much closer (at 6 inches and 12 inches) than they approached the female (18 inches). Madden concluded that gender alone does not encourage contact (approach and distance) between the assistant and the participant, thus his hypothesis was disproven.

Madden’s study illuminates other research questions as to what other factors play a role in proxemics beside gender. Does the participant’s sexuality, the situation at hand, or even the environment contribute to the distance between two people when they are interacting?

Video evidence of Madden’s findings can be seen the YouTube video, Handing out Fliers for Nine Inch Nails: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsZ-lSZKXIs&feature=related.  In this clip one can observe how the personal space changes when they are handing fliers to males and when they hands them to females.

Another example of Madden’s findings can even be seen in one’s own family.  In Photo A the distance between males and males is closer to that of males and females, thus confirming Madden’s results.

Photo A: Family Gathering

Works Cited

Madden, Steven J. “Proxemics and Gender: Where’s The Spatial Gap?.” North Dakota Journal of Speech & Theatre 12. (1999):  41-46. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 2 Dec. 2011

Sugarboogie78. Handing out Fliers for Nine Inch Nails. YouTube. N.p., Aug.-Sept. 2008. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsZ-lSZKXIs&feature=related&gt;.

A.H. (12/6/11)

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