The Elevator Experiment: The Cultural Implications of Personal Space

The basis for the Elevator Experiment (and this blog)

This morning, as I took the elevator to the fifth floor of my office building, I was reminded of a course I took during my final year of studies at Ottawa University, called Mondialisation : aspects sociologiques et anthropologiques or, The Sociological and Anthropological Aspects of Globalization. Since Ottawa offers students the chance to take both French and English courses, I took the opportunity to fulfill a course requirement while brushing up on my “français” and preparing for an up and coming semester abroad. Thankfully students can take courses in either language while taking exams and submit papers in their mother tongue. This greatly facilitated my taking the class seeing as though my french grammar was atrocious, but I digress. Let’s back it up shall we?

The Sociological and Anthropological Aspects of Globalization: While I remember little about the course itself, I will always remember one lesson on cultural differences and what my teacher referred to as “The Elevator Experiment”. The experiment itself is simple. Walk into an elevator and stand directly next to the person inside; now watch them squirm. The point of the exercise was to illustrate the differences between cultures when it comes to the concept of personal space. For example, elevator riders in Canada are (more often than not) uncomfortable when others come too close to popping their personal bubble. Have you ever watched the elevator dance? One person enters and chooses a corner in the rear. The next passenger then filters directly to the corner opposed them, and so on. If, heaven forbid, there are too many people in the elevator and the centre fills up, the dance works in reverse. As people leave the elevator, others shift in order to create the appropriate distance between bodies. But why?  Continue reading “The Elevator Experiment: The Cultural Implications of Personal Space”