Territorial Behavior

When people come over for dinner, they often ask where they should sit at the table. My beloved says "anywhere is fine," and I have to feel sheepish asking them not to sit in my seat.

I felt sheepish because it feels very irrational to me to feel the need to sit in the same seat in my own house. I also never really knew why I wanted to do this. Was it because of comfort of the normal? Perhaps, but there is a theory that it's actually territorial behavior.


From my favorite blog, Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

I have found that one of the strongest feelings of territorial behavior is at retail establishments. Just getting close to the behind-the-counter area at a clothing store or a bar makes the clerk very, very uncomfortable. I felt this too, when I worked as a soda jerk in high school.

My beloved had a retail job once, and left it. She came back to get a paycheck, and went behind the counter. The person working there, whom she's worked with for a long time, asked her to not stand behind the counter. It's interesting-- my beloved's social role changed in an instant (she quit) which immediately triggered a change in the deep-seated, visceral feelings of where is and is not allowed to be. It's especially interesting because it was not a question of trusting her, just a change in role.

I have also felt strong territorial feelings when it comes to how closely people stand to me when talking. Different cultures have different ideas about how close it is appropriate to stand to someone, and I've found that there are individual differences with people in America and Canada, too.

One person I was very close to tended to stand too close to me for my taste. I would back up, and he, unconsciously, would step forward. Realizing this was not working, I learned to stand with my foot out in front of me to keep him at a distance. Writing about it, it sounds ridiculous, but the fact was that when someone is standing that close to me, it's so distracting I can barely concentrate on the conversation.

There is a very famous cognitive scientist (I won't mention his name, but he's big in the ACT-R community) who wants people to stand quite far from him. His conversation partners would, of course, unconsciously followed him every time he backed up. I have watched him, at social functions, back up until he was cornered, like a trapped animal.
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