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From Science to the Streets – Where the Proxemic Pull Came From

“A basic element of human life is that people approach things they like, things that appeal to them; and they avoid things that do not appeal to them or that induce pain and fear.[i]

Witnessing a Proxemic Pull gives you a great feeling as a profiler.  You can look at that interaction between two people (or a person and an object) and draw conclusions about them with a high degree of accuracy.  While Albert Mehrabian’s quote at the top of the post is the essence of the Proxemic Pull and the Proxemic Push, we expand our definition slightly in Tactical Analysis to offer up other meanings of the Proxemic Pull as well.  For two people to be drawn towards each other and to close the distance between them tells me that they may:

(1)  Have a pre-existing relationship

(2)  There is a level of attraction between them

(3)  They are curious about what they are being drawn to

(4)  They realize that the thing or person they are being drawn to can fill a need for them

There are some exceptions to this basic concept of approaching things that interest you which will be discussed in the next post, but generally speaking, Proxemic Pulls occur when the body does not perceive a threat and the body is not preparing for fight or flight, and is instead moving towards a person (or object).  Because of this, the Proxemic Pull can give us a highly reliable observation about why two people are approaching each other.  But where did it come from?  The concept itself comes from the social psychologist Albert Mehrabian, a professor at UCLA.

To help us quantify and understand changes that we observe in the Proxemic separation between people, Mehrabian established what he called the “Approach Metaphor,” and is where the quote above came from.  The quote likely seems straightforward and appears to be simply common sense because it is a dynamic of group relationships that we observe so frequently that we don’t give much attention to it.  Mehrabian made similar observations and witnessed this same concept with infants lying in their crib.  He found through his research that there is a universal aspect of the metaphor, and there is a way that people translate their likes and dislikes into behavior, actions, and expressions.

One of the goals of behavioral analysis is to become better at not only observing the dynamic, but understanding why it is happening so that you can gain a deeper insight into the mind of those we are watching.  Once the why becomes clearer, being able to communicate what you are observing to someone else and explaining the significance behind your conclusions will become much easier.  For more information on this, read the initial “From Science to the Streets” post.

To find more ways to apply the Proxemic Pull to every day situations, read the review of Albert Mehrabian’s book, Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes.

Are there other reasons that you approach something for a positive purpose?  Let us know.


[i] “Silent Messages” by Albert Mehrabian, page 13

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