Size of personal space is affected by anxiety

August 27, 2013, University College London

The space surrounding the body (known by scientists as 'peripersonal space'), which has previously been thought of as having a gradual boundary, has been given physical limits by new research into the relationship between anxiety and personal space.

New findings have allowed scientists to define the limit of the 'peripersonal space' surrounding the face as 20-40cm away. The study is published today in The Journal of Neuroscience.

As well as having numerical limits the specific distance was found to vary between individuals. Those with anxiety traits were found to have larger peripersonal space.

In an experiment, Dr Chiara Sambo and Dr Giandomenico Iannetti from UCL recorded the blink - a to potentially dangerous at varying distances from subject's face. They then compared the reflex data to the results of an anxiety test where subjects rated their levels of anxiety in various situations.

Those who scored highly on the anxiety test tended to react more strongly to stimuli 20cm from their face than subjects who got low scores on the anxiety test. Researchers classified those who reacted more strongly to further away stimuli as having a large 'defensive peripersonal ' (DPPS).

A larger DPPS means that those with high anxiety scores perceive threats as closer than non-anxious individuals when the stimulus is the same distance away. The research has led scientists to think that the brain controls the strength of defensive reflexes even though it cannot initiate them.

Dr Giandomenico Iannetti (UCL Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology), lead author of the study, said: "This finding is the first objective measure of the size of the area surrounding the face that each individual considers at high-risk, and thus wants to protect through the most effective defensive ."

In the experiment, a group of 15 people aged 20 to 37 were chosen for study. Researchers applied an intense electrical stimulus to a specific nerve in the hand which causes the subject to blink. This is called the hand-blink reflex (HBR) which is not under conscious control of the brain.

This reflex was monitored with the subject holding their own hand at 4, 20, 40 and 60 cm away from the face. The magnitude of the reflex was used to determine how dangerous each stimulus was considered, and a larger response for stimuli further from the body indicated a larger DPPS.

Subjects also completed an anxiety test in which they self-scored their predicted level of anxiety in different situations. The results of this test were used to classify individuals as more or less anxious, and were compared to the data from the reflex experiment to determine if there was a link between the two tests.

Scientists hope that the findings can be used as a test to link defensive behaviours to . This could be particularly useful determining risk assessment ability in those with jobs that encounter dangerous situations such as fire, police and military officers.

Explore further: Anxious? Activate your anterior cingulate cortex with a little meditation

More information: 'Better safe than sorry? The safety margin surrounding the body is increased by anxiety' is published online today in the journal The Journal of Neuroscience.

Related Stories

Anxious? Activate your anterior cingulate cortex with a little meditation

June 4, 2013
Scientists, like Buddhist monks and Zen masters, have known for years that meditation can reduce anxiety, but not how. Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, however, have succeeded in identifying the brain functions ...

Do girls really experience more math anxiety?

August 27, 2013
Girls report more math anxiety on general survey measures but are not actually more anxious during math classes and exams, according to new research forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological ...

Pre-test jitters might boost scores, study says

October 12, 2012
(HealthDay)—For students with a good memory, feeling anxious before taking an exam might actually lead to a higher test score, researchers have found.

Children who avoid scary situations likelier to have anxiety, research finds

March 12, 2013
Children who avoid situations they find scary are likely to have anxiety a Mayo Clinic study of more than 800 children ages 7 to 18 found. The study published this month in Behavior Therapy presents a new method of measuring ...

Childhood functional stomach pain ups risk for later anxiety

August 12, 2013
(HealthDay)—Children with functional abdominal pain (FAP) are at greater risk for anxiety disorders as they get older, according to research published online Aug. 12 in Pediatrics.

Parent-led anxiety treatment could improve children's lives, study finds

August 22, 2013
A new study by the University of Reading has found that delivering Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) via parents could be an efficient and effective way of treating childhood anxiety disorders.

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Miles Davis is not Mozart: The brains of jazz and classical pianists work differently

January 16, 2018
Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: "No, that's hilarious. [...] It's like ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.