Change Psychology: Expectancy Violations Theory

recently wrote about building up a resource for Change knowledge here within this very Blog. Finally I got the time to deal with some basic psychological questions of Change. I am looking forward to be able to share those insights on “Change Psychology” with you, here.

People have expectations about how other people should and will behave. Their reaction to the deviations of others from expectancy depends on what they have to lose or gain. This is often about non-verbal behavior (body language).

We all have ‘body space’ outside of which we expect other people to remain except in specific conditions. When the other person is too close, I will feel threatened as it gives them the ‘first strike’ capability should the situation become aggressive.

There are four zones of body space (for the average American):

  • Intimate distance: from 0 to 18 inches. For sexual and other intimate contact.
  • Personal distance: from 18 inches to 4 feet. Typically for interactions with family and close friends.
  • Social distance: from 4 to 12 feet. Typically for casual and social settings.
  • Public distance: from 12 feet and beyond. Typically for formal situations.

When talking with other people, we also have expectations about what is too far away. If a person stands too distant from me, I might wonder if I smell or are socially unattractive in some way.

How we react to violations depend on reward value, or what we expect to get from the relationship. Thus a man is likely to react more positively towards an attractive younger woman standing close than a larger man from an out-group.

So what?
Do experiments to determine the other person’s body space.

If people are standing in your body space or further away than you expect, wonder why. If it seems wrong, move yourself.

Psychology of Change (Picture source: Original article taken from
Psychology of Change (Picture source:
Original article taken from

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