This essay focuses on the norms that govern our behavior. Rather, within a culture there is usually an implicitly understand “appropriate” conversation distance
ulture shapes many of the norms that govern our behavior. Take the question of interpersonal space. When you have a conversation with someone, you stand a certain distance from that person. Quite a range of distances allow for a functional conversation. You could communicate fine if you were just 1 foot away, and you could also communicate fine if you were 15 feet away. However, people don’t usually use the full range of possible distances when they have conversations. Rather, within a culture there is usually an implicitly understood “appropriate” conversation distance that people unconsciously adopt.
If someone starts off a conversation from either too great or too small a distance, people will usually adjust where they are standing until they have reestablished the appropriate distance, and these adjustments occur for the most minor deviations from the norm. Furthermore, these appropriate distances vary across cultures. For example, in Venezuela the typical conversation distance is 32 inches, in the United States it is 35 inches, and in Japan it is 40 inches (Sus- sman & Rosenfeld, 1982). Compared with Americans, Venezuelans prefer closer conversational distances, and Japanese prefer wider conversational distances. Upon learning about this cultural difference, or any of the others covered in this book. This is you might ask this: How did Venezuelans come to prefer closer.
to prefer more-distant interpersonal spaces than Americans? How did cultures get inside people’s heads in the first place? There seem to be at least two distinct possibilities for the origins of these cultural differences. One is that Venezuelans, Japanese, and Americans were born that way. That is, Venezuelans tend to have more of an inherited genetic predisposition. This is to prefer closer interpersonal distances, and Japanese. They have inherited tendencies to prefer greater interpersonal distances, whereas Americans were born preferring intermediate interpersonal distances.
Although it is possible that the genes underlying inherited psychological traits are not distributed equally across the globe (see Chiao & Blizinsky, 2010), there is as yet no good evidence for such kinds of population differences in genes underlying differences in ways of thinking (we’ll discuss genetic variation more in Chapter 13). Rather, there is much acculturation research that finds weaker cultural differences among those who have moved to other cultures (e.g., Heine & Lehman, 2004).