The term "personal space" is an important social rule. To define it in simple terms, each of us has a virtual circle around us where we feel safe, and if someone crosses into it we become uncomfortable and feel inconvenient. Most children implicitly sense when they enter someone else's personal space and when theirs is crossed. The child might forcefully invade its peer's space, oblivious to how it makes them feel. And this could cause the child to be rejected by peers and have difficulty making friends. Or the child's inability to recognize when its own personal space has been invaded could potentially make him vulnerable to inappropriate conduct.
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On recognizing their own personal space children also acquire a sense of property. Within their personal space, children recognize certain objects as theirs, and they defend them from others. This “sense of property” is natural and only through training do they learn that they cannot have all the things they want even though they belong to someone else, and that many things must be shared. Learning to respect other people’s property means, for children, growing up to be social animals, who accept certain rules in order to be able to live in a group, whether it is the family, the street, school, or the village.
Data from approximately 500 children in grades 3-10 on a personal space task were integrated into 4 sex-age groups and separately analyzed depending on certain factors. Findings were that girls have similar personal space schemata across grade level but that patterns were more highly schematized for older girls. These spatial patterns were obviously more determined by the emotional tone of the interaction than the sex of the stimulus figures. Boys evidenced development of spatial schemata across age. Older boys had more clear-cut personal space patterns, whereas younger boys apparently responded to situation-specific cues. Males were more likely to have schemata based on the stimulus figure's sex. Findings were consonant with knowledge of social development and appropriate sex-role identification.
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