Seattle represents what smells the most

Body odor and distance behavior. An eco-psychological consideration.


1 Introduction

2 Personal space and distance
2.1 Definition and classification of the terms personal space and distance
2.2 Influential factors on personal space
2.2.1 Perception of the influencing factors
2.3 Violations of the personal space

3 Olfactory perception
3.1 Psychological aspects of the sense of smell
3.2 Body odor in Western cultures

4 Body odor and distance behavior
4.1 Theoretical considerations
4.2 Empirical research
4.3 Results

5 Summary and Criticism



1 Introduction

Patrick Süßkind's novel “Perfume” is about the power of smells, which in today's civilized, western world no longer seems to exist.

“This fragrance is incomprehensible, indescribable, in no way to be classified, it shouldn't actually exist. And yet he was there as a matter of course. Grenouille followed him, his heart pounding fearfully, because he suspected that it was not he who followed the scent, but that the scent had captured him and was now irresistibly drawn to him ”(Süskind, 1985, p. 52).

In this term paper the attempt should be made to represent the sense of smell and smells of persons as influencing variables on the personal space and the distance behavior.

The majority of research on personal space approaches the questions on the basis of visual and auditory perception, but it seems sensible to also look at questions on personal space from an “olfactory perspective”.

We maintain a certain distance from other people, which differs according to personality variables and situation variables. This distance is called the personal space. The personal space surrounds us like an invisible bubble that no one should enter. In trams or in the cinema, you try to leave a free seat between yourself and the others. If someone steps too close to us, we feel uncomfortable. It seems that an unwritten law exists (cf. Mann, 1972).

According to Hall (1976), a distance of up to 75 cm characterizes the olfactory perception of other people, but situations arise in everyday life in which people can also be smelled from an otherwise appropriate distance. People who symbolically have wrapped themselves in a "scent cloud" made of perfume, or people who smell extremely of sweat, are likely to have already been experienced by many people.

For this homework, above all positively rated smells and their influence on the distance behavior are relevant. The question is discussed to what extent a smaller distance is tolerated and taken from a person who is perfumed than to a person who is not perfumed. After the definition and explanation of the terms personal space and distance, as well as their dependency and perception, the psychological aspects of the sense of smell are briefly outlined and the meaning of body odor in Western cultures is presented. Subsequently, a connection between visual and olfactory perception of people and assessment is shown on the basis of a study. From these representations, the question of the influence of (body) odor on interpersonal distance behavior is developed. A study by Tachikawa and Daibo demonstrates the influence of perfume use on personal space. I will end this paper with a summary and critical assessment of the results.

2 Personal space and distance

2.1 Definition and classification of the terms personal space and distance

Most people feel uncomfortable when someone comes too close to them for no reason. In buses, all empty rows of seats are occupied first, and in the concert hall, too, people like to leave a space between themselves and the others. This distance, which is usually kept between people, is called personal space.

The psychologist Sommer describes personal space as an invisible bubble that surrounds people and that no one should penetrate (cf. Altman, 1975). However, this bubble is not a fixed symmetrical zone, but rather certain person and situation-dependent regularities in compliance with spatial interaction conditions. (Schultz-Gambard, 1990). Leon Mann (1972) also describes personal space as the “intimate sphere” and its relevance only becomes apparent in the social situation over the distances taken. Gifford defines personal space as “the distance component of interpersonal relations. It is both an indicator of, and an integral part of, the growth, maintance, and decline of interpersonal relationships ”(1987, p. 105).

The anthropologist Edward T. Hall (1976) differentiates between four zones of distance that can be found in every culture, but differ from one another due to the respective social norms. He classifies his distance zones according to the basic relationships that people can enter into with one another and describes them as intimate, personal, social and public distance. Interpersonal distances inform both interaction partners and outside viewers about the relationships between people (see Hellbrück & Fischer, 1999)

2.2 Influence factors on personal space

Altman (1975) names individual and cultural, interpersonal and situational conditions that influence personal space and distance behavior. Similarly, Gifford (1987) differentiates between three categories of influencing variables: personal, situational and cultural-ethical.

In comparison, anxious, introverted or violent people take up more personal space, women and men keep closer distances to one another than same-sex couples, Arabs use shorter interaction distances than Americans, friends are closer than strangers. In high rooms, comparatively less personal space is required than in low rooms and less in generalized positive situations than in negative situations. (Schultz-Gambard, 1990).

People also use less personal space when they find each other appealing than when they are neutral to each other (cf. course 3230)

2.2.1 Perception of the influencing factors

For Hall (1976, p.118-121), the changing sensory inputs constitute the various distances, with the greater part of the sense of distance running outside of consciousness. Since the distances taken primarily result from the relationship between people and only variations due to personal and / or environmental influences are relevant, the type of perception of the influencing factors is characteristic of these distances for Hall.

As an example, the intimate phase (0 to approx. 20 cm) has the greatest communication potential and is the most stimulating overall. Touch, heat and smell perception are possible. Visual and acoustic perception are very differentiated.

For this housework, the perception of body odors is to be highlighted as an influencing factor on distance behavior.

In everyday situations, odor perception is in principle also possible over the distances described by Hall (1976) if the person emits a strong odor or the odor molecules are carried on by drafts, wind or movements of the person.

The description of personal space as an invisible bubble (cf. Altman, 1976, cf. Gifford, 1987) is very “vivid” and demonstrates “the primacy of seeing over all other modes” (Kruse, 1974, p.111), but means it is not that this bladder cannot, for example, be acoustic or olfactory (affecting the olfactory nerve) in nature.

2.3 Violations of the personal space

In the previous descriptions of Personal Space and in a large number of experiments, personal space injuries were caused by physical intrusion by another person. These injuries and the associated intrusion into personal space can, however, also occur through stare, a loud voice or smell and can be experienced as unpleasant and aroused (cf. Mann, 1972). The German Federal Environment Agency (2000, No. 14) issued a press release warning against excessive use of natural or artificially produced odoriferous and aromatic substances. If the market expands rapidly, as outlined in the press release, one will probably have to think about regulations, as required by a nationwide self-help group (Multiple Chemical Sensivity, 1987).

3 Olfactory perception

3.1 Psychological aspects of the sense of smell

To this day, smell is the least researched of all senses in all scientific disciplines and is often assigned to the "lower" senses in comparison with visual and auditory perception (Burdach, 1987, Raab, 2001)

Compared to animals, the human sense of smell is poorly developed, because humans are capable of scenting substances from a concentration of 10 million molecules per mm3 to perceive smelling; the dog already smells at 10 molecules per mm3.

Smells can not only arouse strong emotions, but can also evoke intense memories, such as the smell of a loved one or the smell of mothballs reminding of grandmother (cf. Kollbrunner, 2000).

Compared to seeing, hearing or touching, smells are accompanied to a much greater extent by emotional and hedonistic-evaluating reactions. When describing fragrances, ratings on the scale “pleasant - unpleasant” dominate (cf. Gschwind, 1998). You can't escape a smell unless you keep your distance. (see Burdach, 1987, Raab, 2001)

3.2 Body odor in Western cultures

The natural smells of one's own body, such as armpit and intimate odor or the odor of one's own excretions, have experienced a change to unacceptability in Western cultures (Classen, Howes & Synnott, 1994, Corbin, 1988). The very idea that someone could smell our sweat fills us with embarrassing concern and prompts a cleansing of the affected body part or the whole body. In western societies, the body is de-odorized, freed from all natural body odors as far as possible, in order to carry out a re-odorization at the same time and often in addition. The market for perfume and aftershave, fragrant detergents, shampoos, creams, hairsprays and much more is booming (cf. Ebberfeld, 2000).

It can be assumed that with the desire to smell good and to neutralize the supposedly bad body odor with perfume and the like, the natural smell of a person is not lost. In connection with the perfume, an individual fragrance characteristic arises, which can be so pronounced that even inexperienced perceptors can identify individual persons with a high degree of probability by the fragrance (Streblow et al., 1995). On the basis of these results, perfume fragrances are to be included in relation to human body odors for this housework.

4 Body odor and distance behavior

4.1 Theoretical considerations

If other people's body odors, which are experienced as aversive, penetrate the personal space, it can be assumed that greater distances are taken (cf. Maiworm, 1993).

Under subjective positive circumstances, the personal space is smaller than under neutral or negative circumstances, and a smaller distance is taken in comparison with attractive people than with less attractive people (course 3230).

Physical attractiveness (beauty) is one of the most important categories in perception of people (Fischer & Wiswede, 2002, p. 200). Rikowski and Grammer (1999, pp. 869-874) were able to demonstrate in their study that not only beauty is relevant in assessing attractiveness, but also the person's body odor, by establishing clear correlations between visual and olfactory attractiveness assessments. If a person was rated as attractive because of their body odor, this assessment also correlated with the presentation of a photo of the person concerned. Maiworm (1993) also points out the importance of smells that have been empirically isolated in assessing situations and people.

These results suggest that a body odor perceived as subjectively positive causes another person to decrease the personal space.

If, on the one hand, attractiveness is an important factor influencing personal space, then similarity is also a relevant criterion. It has been shown that people find each other more attractive when similarity in age, social status and race is recognized (cf. course 3230). For the body odor of other people, a body odor that is similar to one's own odor or one's own odor preference, or a body odor that matches the general taste, would then have a more attractive effect.

4.2 Empirical research

Tachikawa and Daibo (2000, pp. 307-309) examined the influence of perfume use on personal space in their study. In your experiment, 30 university students were divided up under three different conditions (without perfume, perfume A, perfume B) using the stop-distance method from four different directions (front, back, right and left) on an unperfumed one with perfume A. and scented with perfume B, approach the person sitting in the middle of the room and stand at a distance from the person that was (still) comfortable for you.

Perfume A was classified as a fresh, fruity, floral type and Perfume B was classified as a fresh, watery, bouquet type.

4.3 Results

The results show that when compared with the no-perfume condition, when the perfume is used, the personal space becomes smaller. Perfume A and B cause the personal space to decrease by 50% and 20%. Perfume A had a stronger effect on the decrease in personal space than perfume B. The participants in the experiment described the smell of perfume A as sensational and perfume B as intimate (familiar).

In this study, no reason for the decrease in personal space could be determined, nor could it be clarified why perfume A, which was perceived as obviously "exotic", caused a greater decrease in personal space than perfume B, which was classified as more familiar. This result was the opposite the hypothesis: "The more a fragrance fits the general taste, the greater the decrease in personal space" (Tachikawa & Daibo, 2000)

5 Summary and Criticism

The results of the study show that perfume use has an influence on distance behavior. The scent penetrates the personal space and is apparently not experienced as an injury, but influences the decrease in the personal space. The extent to which this person is judged to be more attractive could not be determined, nor could any other reason for the removal of the personal space be determined. In the study, two different perfumes were used to determine whether a perfume that corresponds to the general taste has a stronger effect on the slimming of the personal space than a more "exotic" perfume. The results show that the hypothesis of the similarity of body odors or that a body odor that matches the general taste has a more attractive effect could not be confirmed.

The influence of body odor on distance behavior cannot, however, be transferred to Western cultures, as this is a Japanese study. Distance zones can be found in every culture, but differ according to the respective social norms (Hall, 1976), so the classification and assessment of perfume use cannot be transferred to other cultures. It should be noted, however, that perfume fragrances are generally assessed as positively assessed body odor in Western society.

In the study itself, two fragrances were used that are generally used by women, but men usually prefer other fragrances, so it is questionable whether this experiment with 30 people can also be generalized to everyday situations in Japan, since women's and men's fragrances can be generalized clearly differentiate and trigger different influences on the distance behavior. A laboratory situation can also falsify the result, similarly King (1988, p. 157) expresses "There is no doubt that the psychological effect of a fragrance is highly dependent on the context in which it is encountered".

In summary, I would like to state that a person's body odor in connection with man-made fragrances contains a multitude of variables and questions that could not be answered in the experiment by Tachikawa and Daibo.

As an example, opposite-sex attraction through the body's own fragrances (pheromones) has been proven (Maiworm, 1993); Aromatherapy and room fragrancing in department stores, which induce people to linger in the shop concerned, are perspectives that reveal the complexity of the subject and the influence on the human psyche. At the end of this housework, however, I am convinced of body odors that can magically attract us, like the aforementioned figure Grenouille in the novel by Süskind, and I find it exciting to continue to deal with the topic. Not least because the world of fragrances appears mysterious and intangible, as one is inclined to only believe in what one sees.


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I hereby declare that I am doing this term paper with the topic:

Body odor and distance behavior

An eco-psychological consideration

created without outside help. All sources used are given. I assure you that I have not yet submitted any term paper or examination paper with the same or a similar topic to the FernUniversität or another university.

Duisburg, October 11, 2002

- Birgit Trappmann-