There’s a neat study in Perception finding that listening to music through headphones warps our comfort zone of interpersonal space.
The researchers asked participants to walk up to another person from various angles until they reached the edge of their comfort zone.
Without them knowing the researchers measured the distance, and this was compared between times when participants were listening to music through headphones, were wearing silent headphones or were without headphones.
When listening to music, participants maintained a greater interpersonal distance and this was particularly true when their back faced another person. In other words, people needed more distance behind them to feel comfortable.
This is likely because we use hearing to track objects, particularly behind us, and when we can no longer rely on a sense to give us this information we tend to err on the side of caution.
The researchers drop a tantalising hint that the type of music may also have an effect.
While in this study, all participants listened to unfamiliar music, they mentioned that “we have pilot data suggesting that people change their interpersonal space area when listening to music they like compared with music they dislike or no music at all”.
Turn down the Barry White buddy, you’re crowding my space.