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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Dating From the Inside Out > 14

Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

The Affects of Body Language

Once you spend some time creating a dating goal plan and addressing what kind of dating social life you desire, it’s important to think a little about the kinds of signals that are sent in social settings.

One fascinating arena with regard to the dating and mating game is the nonverbal world of body language, or proxemics, the study of the appreciation and use of space. When it comes to spatial boundaries, human beings are generally quite territorial as a species, but it’s usually barely noticeable unless there is a “violation” of personal space.

Proxemics
Researcher E.T. Hall created the term “proxemics” in 1963 while investigating the "fixed" and "semi-fixed" contrasts in physical space. Specifically, he found that fixed feature space is characterized by unmovable boundaries (such as divisions within a structure), while semi-fixed feature space relates to fixed boundaries such as physical things. “Informal space” is the personal zone that varies among individuals and situations. As mammals, the spatial zones also constitute areas in which humans protect themselves from outside intrusion.

In some cultures, spatial territory is not nearly as limited as it is in the United States. Comfort levels vary and differ widely, depending upon that status quo within a particular culture. However, most would agree that maintaining control over personal space is a key factor in social comfort levels.

How one approaches space in general can vastly affect communication. Spatial territory for communication generally consists of four categories for informal space: the intimate distance for embracing or whispering (6-18 inches), the personal distance for conversations among good friends (1.5-4 feet), social distance for conversations among acquaintances (4-12 feet), and public distance used for public speaking (12 feet or more).

Individuals usually perceive a distance that is appropriate for different types of messages, and also establish a comfortable distance for personal interaction, per behavioral studies. The personal space boundaries are defined nonverbally. Behavioral research suggests that the violation of personal space can have adverse effects on communication. Therefore, successful communication encounters hinge on the respect of an individual’s personal space boundaries. This is especially important to keep in mind when approaching people for the first time.


Personal Space and Communication
Communication is probably one of the strongest tools used in social interaction. When people are trying to attract suitable social interests, it’s all about communication, and how one is perceived. Once it is determined that someone is “attractive” by someone of interest, it is then time to hone in on more mental, spiritual forms of communication. While physical space is obvious, other, non-verbal communication and actual words spoken, can also fall within the realm of “personal space.”

Understanding physical space is an important part of the communication process, because violations of it can undermine any success one might have with social attractiveness, whether bodily or analytically. Consideration of personal proxemics communicates attitudes. When someone does not respect personal boundaries, it causes a negative impulse on the part of the person being violated. This is because personal space provides a “security” type of boundary for people. To intrude upon it threatens that security. It also gives off a sense that the violator does not respect the person whose space is being invaded.


Keeping Our Distance

Research has indicated that Americans, in particular, have much more strict personal space boundaries than many other cultures. In general, physical contact is discouraged, except in moments of intimacy. However, there are times, when the group energy of a large crowd is necessary, such as sports, music, or theater. At those times, personal space boundary invasions are tolerated for the sake of the event.

The distance between two people conveys a desire for intimacy or lack of interest. It can also trigger control or fear, such as during police interrogations or when criminal activity is contemplated.

Vocal messages are qualified and conditioned by the handling of distance, and the substance of a conversation can often require special handling of space. Spatial changes provide a tone to communication, and may also counteract the spoken word.

When attitudes are controlled, a sense of power enables one to feel that their “world” is controlled. Attitude is reflected through body language, and may be adjusted to suit any given situation in an instant.

Any given statement can have numerous meanings, depending upon which words are emphasized. This is because messages come 55% from the body, 38% from voices (inflection, intonation, volume) and 7% from actual words.


Hidden Meanings in Movements and Gestures

Understanding the hidden meanings in movements and gestures can allow one to read more intuitively how they and others feel about something. Generally, in order to place any significance on any one particular body cue, or even a few of them, one has to consider it within the context of a group.

These are some very simple movements that human beings, in particular, have been found to associate positivity with. Smiling instantly and clearly demonstrates confidence, friendliness, a positive attitude, a good mood, and can give the impression that you're fun to be with.

Another posture to adopt are ones that show an "open" and "direct" flow from the body. When you're open, directly facing the other with your hands to the side, perhaps with palms facing up and towards the other, is exposing or presenting yourself to them.

An obvious "closed" body posture is arms crossed, which shows a barrier that can serve to repel people away and reduce intimacy. Ever notice how bodyguards, for example, adopt that stance? Other "closed" stances can include using other objects, between yourself and the person you're talking to, such as a drink or your hands, Other body orientations can include pointing your shoulders, body, or head in another direction, turning your attention away and toward something else.

Closed body postures are very common because they serve to reduce the level of perceived intimacy in a situation. Psychologically, presenting oneself to others inherently includes the possibility of rejection. Because people don't like rejection, they will often unknowingly close themselves off, essentially, “rejecting” someone before the other has a chance to “reject” them.


Showing Interest

Eye contact is obvious, powerful, and arousing. Direct eye contact shows self-confidence and can show that you're very interested, or that you mean what you are saying. It has been known to boost physiological interest.

Another method of showing interest while communicating is nodding, because it can be a powerful reinforcer. For example, if you are talking with someone and agree with or even just understand what is being said, nodding slightly gives the person you’re talking with the impression that they are being listened to and understood. Typically, when someone is talking with a person and they are not interested or disagree, rather than nodding, one might look away or even veer in the other direction. It is also possible at that point to change the topic of discussion so that it is going in a more desirable direction.

Closing up distance between you and someone else can be done by "leaning" (if seated, leaning slightly toward the other person, or if standing slightly leaning your head toward the other). Increasing proximity reduces both the real and psychological distance between two people, helping to create a sense of intimacy or togetherness.

By getting a little closer or leaning slightly toward someone, the message being conveyed is that you're interested in what someone has to say. The opposite is also true. Keeping distance or leaning back or away from someone indicates that you're not really interested in them.

In modern society, and larger cities, particularly, touching without familiarity is generally taboo. This could be one reason why touching, if done appropriately, has an immediate, almost magical effect on another person. Its communication power is equaled only by the smile and, perhaps, eye contact.

The key to all of the spatial communication methods is knowing how to read and use them. Being alert to body language cues can provide insight into what types of communication work and which don’t, while offering some indication of how you are perceived. By always paying close attention to a situation and mood, you can be sure not to force something if it doesn’t seem appropriate. Conversely, you can learn to utilize social cues you may not have noticed before, as perhaps an invitation to continue conversations or take them to the next level in the development of friendships and romantic involvements.



Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.


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