Near Space and Claustrophobia

Anxiety and fear are emotions that distort how a person perceives things around him. Normal people have a perceptual bias about near space immediately surrounding the body. While bisecting a line visually, neurologically normal people demonstrate a bias towards left or right, depending upon the location of the line near their body or away from them. This task was tested and correlated with a feeling of claustrophobia in this study. The current study found that more claustrophobic sense is associated with a feeling of near space seeming larger.

A near space is a perception of space immediately surrounding the body. It is known that in our mind, both near space and distinct space are perceived differently. This produces a perceptual bias in normal persons. For example, when a person attempts to see and cut an imaginary straight line in exact halves, there is a leftward shift if the line is in the near space. If this imaginary line is in the far space, then there is a rightward shift. A sense of fear is associated with a perceptual distortion. Claustrophobia is a situational fear featuring intense anxiety of enclosed spaces. The current study examined whether people suffering from claustrophobia have different representation of near space than normal people.

* Thirty-five students, including 21 females, participated in this study.
* The participants were tested in a large square room, where they attempted to divide lines of 10, 20, and 30 cm using a laser pointer at nine distances. These lines were centered on a legal-sized paper and were attached horizontally to a wall.
* The participants also completed claustrophobia questionnaire, which recorded responses to specific situations where participants felt suffocated or restricted.
* The natural tendency to show leftward bias in cutting a line in near space and rightward bias in far space was correlated with the claustrophobia questionnaire scores.

* Scores on the claustrophobia questionnaire were comparable to existing data in normal population with a mean total score of 32.65.
* Participants with greater claustrophobic fear showed more gradual rightward shifts over distance; they had larger near spaces as compared with the participants with less claustrophobic fear.
* The participants with lesser claustrophobic fear showed faster rightward shift as they attempted to bisect lines at a greater distance from their position.
* This suggested that the participants with greater anxiety of enclosed spaces might perceive near space to be larger than what normal participants feel.

Next steps/Shortcomings
This study found the correlation between perception of near space and the feeling of claustrophobia. However, this study does not make clear whether a person feels claustrophobic because his distorted sense of space demands a larger near space or whether a larger near space leads to fear of encroachment in a closed space.

Near space is a perceptually close space around the physical body, which produces no anxiety in the mind. This study showed that the claustrophobic feeling is associated with a larger sense of near space. Claustrophobia might be related to an evolutionary remnant from animal behavior. Animals do not run away immediately after seeing a predator. They are comfortable as long as the distance between the predator and the animal is sufficient enough for it to escape unharmed. Animals show fear only when this escape distance is invaded by the predator. The human mind might also operate on the same principle. This study pointed out to a possibility that in clinical claustrophobia, education about reducing the near space might be useful.

For More Information:
Near Space and Its Relation to Claustrophobic Fear
Publication Journal: Cognition, 2011
By Stella Lourenco; Matthew Longo; Emory University, Georgia; Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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