Smaller preferred interpersonal distance for joint versus parallel action



Schmitz L & Reader AT (2023) Smaller preferred interpersonal distance for joint versus parallel action. PLOS ONE, 18 (5), Art. No.: e0285202.

During social interaction, humans prefer to keep a certain distance between themselves and other individuals. This preferred ‘interpersonal distance’ (IPD) is known to be sensitive to social context, and in the present study we aimed to further investigate the extent to which IPD is affected by the specific type of social interaction. In particular, we focused on the contrast between joint actions, where two or more individuals coordinate their actions in space and time to achieve a shared goal, and parallel actions, where individuals act alongside each other but individually. We predicted that joint action would be associated with a smaller preferred IPD compared to parallel action. Additionally, given that this research took place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we aimed to assess whether IPD preferences are affected by individuals’ concerns about infection in general, as well as COVID-19 in particular. We predicted that higher individual concerns would be associated with greater preferred IPD. To test these hypotheses, we asked participants to imagine different social scenarios (involving either joint or parallel actions alongside a stranger) and indicate, on a visual scale, their preferred IPD. The results of two experiments (n = 211, n = 212) showed that participants preferred a shorter distance when they imagined acting jointly compared to when they imagined acting in parallel. Moreover, participants who reported higher discomfort for potential pathogen contact and who were more aware of the COVID-19 context in which the study took place preferred a larger IPD in general. Our results provide further evidence that different types of social interaction shape IPD preference. We discuss potential reasons for this phenomenon and highlight remaining questions for future research.

PLOS ONE: Volume 18, Issue 5

Publication date31/12/2023
Publication date online02/05/2023
Date accepted by journal18/04/2023
PublisherPublic Library of Science (PLoS)

People (1)


Dr Arran Reader

Dr Arran Reader

Lecturer in Psychology, Psychology


Research centres/groups