Approach Avoidance: She subtly moves away from him as he leans
toward her; she is following her natural instinct to move away.
We, the human animal, learned over our millions of year of existence to fear something that was approaching. As Chicago Booth School of Business professor Christopher K. Hsee, explains in his recent paper, "In our long struggle for survival, we humans learned that something approaching us is far more of a threat than something that is moving away. This makes sense, since a tiger bounding toward a person is certainly more of a threat than one that is walking away."
We still have negative feelings about things that approach us -- even if they objectively are not threatening. Though we modern humans don't really consider such fear, it turns out that it still plays a big part in our day-to-day lives.
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Hsee, along with Chicago Booth doctoral student Yanping Tu, and Zoe Y. Lu and Bowen Ruan of the University of Wisconsin, suggest that this fear, or as they call it "approach avoidance," is actually an innate tendency. Even seemingly docile entities, such as deer, have a fear factor attached to them since there could be some uncertainty to a wild animal's behavior.
Innate? Programmed into each of us, literally part of our DNA.
According to the researchers, these initial investigations into approach avoidance are of practical use in a number of areas.
- Marketers, can use this information. to determine if they should gradually move a product closer to viewers in a television commercial, or whether that will actually harm the image of the product. Similarly,
- Speakers who tend to move closer and closer toward their audiences during their speeches should think twice, as doing so may cast an unfavorable impression on listeners.
- Salespeople can be sensitive to visual cues from their prospect to maintain a non-threatening distance, a distance comfortable to the prospect.
As Hsee says, there is a flip side to this, as anyone who has conducted a negotiation knows. Crowding the other party or parties in a negotiation is a of using their innate discomfort to get them to agree to something or to yield on a point of dispute.
The fact is, the personal space between us can be a tool to use when working with people, something to think about and to use as you go through your day.
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Story Source: Materials provided by University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Christopher K. Hsee, Yanping Tu, Zoe Y. Lu, Bowen Ruan. Approach aversion: Negative hedonic reactions toward approaching stimuli.. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014