Sidewalk study

Woman on sidewalk (volume increaese)
In the 1970s, American sociologists James Dabbs and Neil Stokes conducted a sidewalk study, wherein they measured changes in personal space around people as they walked against passerbyers on sidewalks, finding that beautiful women were allotted more personal space measured in inches. [1]
In studies, sidewalk study, aka Dabbs-Stokes study, is a famous 1970s observational and experimental study, conducted American social psychologists James Dabbs (1937-2004) and Neil A. Stokes III (c.1940-), wherein passerbyers were filmed from above as passed each other, moving in opposite directions, on a sidewalk, finding that both pairs were given more personal space than singles, that men were given more personal space than women, and most interesting, that a more attractive (beautiful) woman—experimentally distinguished, the same woman in each case, by tightfitting clothes and attractive makeup—as compared to a less attractive woman—experimentally distinguished by no makeup, pulled back hair, and sloppy clothes—was given a wider berth, i.e. more passage volume or personal space, when she passed; the beautiful woman evidenced or effected a volume increase, as compared to the less-attractive version of the same woman, who evidenced or effected a volume decrease. [1]

In the early 1970s, American sociologists James Dabbs and Neil A. Stokes III, of Georgia State University, conducted a study, the research of which supported by a US Public Health grant (HH20660), involving three experiments, in an attempt to discern changes in personal space (volume around a person) with respect to beauty, when a person is in motion, in an attempt to bring quantification to the famous idiom “beauty is power”, the abstract of the results of this study, published in 1975 as “Beauty is Power: the Use of Space on the Sidewalk”, is the following: [2]

“In three experiments, 470 pedestrians were observed as they walked past confederates standing on the edge of a sidewalk. Observations were made from a window overlooking the area, using time lapse filming with a movie camera. Pedestrians were observed as they moved along the sidewalk, and their distances from the edge of the sidewalk was measured at several points. Pedestrians deviated in their paths to stay farther from a male than a female, father from two people than from one person, and farther from a beautiful than an unattractive woman. Sex, number, and attractiveness may be regarded as aspects of power, which serve to dominate various amounts of a space.”

This study, along with the similar 1974 study “Body Height, Position, and Sex as Determinants of Personal Space”, conducted on 41 males and 43 females, in a laboratory setting by American psychologists Johan Hartnett, Kent Vailey, and Craig Hartley, were in combination summarized by American beauty researcher Nancy Etcoff (1999), as follows: [3]

“As we walk down the street, we negotiate space with other people. We carry a small territory with us, a protected turf that surrounds us whether we are sitting or standing, and upon which others cannot trespass without permission. Move in too close, and people get uncomfortable. Tall people have bigger territories: their sheer size intimidates people. When people are asked to approach a stranger and stop when they no longer feel comfortable, they will stop about two feet away from a tall person (22.7 inches to be exact) but less than a foot (9.8 inches) from a short person. Very attractive people of any size are given personal territories; they carry their privileges around their persons.”

This "trespass without permission" brings to mind both the 1970 chimpanzee war and the 2001 9/11 attacks, both the result "territory trespassing" repercussions, a led into the topic of war thermodynamics.

In 1976, Stokes and Dabbs, presented the results of a similar video-recorded interaction study of dyads discussing topics on which the agreed and ones on which they disagreed, the results analyzed by a computer. (ΡΊ)

1. Whyte, William H. (2012). City: Rediscovering the Center (pgs. 21-22). Pennsylvania Press.
2. (a) Dabbs, James M. and Stokes, Neil A. (1975). “Beauty is Power: the Use of Space on the Sidewalk” (abs), Sociometry, 38: 551-57.
(b) James M. Dabbs, Jr. – Wikipedia.
3. (a) Hartnett, J.J. Bailey, and Harley, C. (1974). “Body Height, Position, and Sex as Determinants of Personal Space” (abs), Journal of Psychology¸ 87:129-36.
(b) Etcoff, Nancy. (1999). Survival of the Prettiest: the Science of Beauty (pg. 46). New York: Anchor Books.

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