Where Does One Stand: A Biological Account of Preferred Interpersonal Distance


What determines how close you choose to stand to someone? Why do some people prefer farther distances than others? We hypothesized that an important factor is one's sensory sensitivity level, i.e. how sensitive one is to nearby visual stimulation, noise, touch or smell. The current study characterizes the behavioral, hormonal and electrophysiological metrics of interpersonal distance (IPD) preferences in relation to levels of sensory sensitivity. Using both an ecologically realistic task and EEG we found that sensory sensitivity levels predicted IPD preferences, such that the more sensitive one is the farther distance they prefer. Furthermore, electrophysiological evidence revealed that individuals with higher sensory sensitivity show more alpha suppression for approaching stimuli, strengthening the notion that early sensory cortical excitability is involved in one's social decision of how close to stand to another. The results provide evidence that a core human metric of social interaction is influenced by individual levels of sensory sensitivity.