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Proximity and Attention


Explanations > Perception > Attention > Proximity

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



We pay attention to things which are closer to us.

If something is within our personal space, we quickly decide if it feels too threatening and will then push it away or move away from it. If something is nearby, we keep an eye on it, just in case it comes closer or acts in a threatening way. We pay far less attention to things in the background.


A person wants to get attention of another, so they move closer to them.

A landscape photographer always puts a rock or something in the foreground.

An advert ends with a big, frame-filling picture of the product.


Our evolution has taught us to beware of things that are close to us. Trees and rocks, for example can fall on us. More importantly, there could be someone hiding behind them. Wild animals can also be scarier the closer they come, especially if they are bigger than us or have a nasty bite. People in particular form threats when they are rivals or seek to dominate us.

When we like something, we try to get closer to it so we can pay closer attention to it. When something gets closer to us without invitation, we quickly do a threat assessment and decide whether we like it or not. If we are comfortable, we enjoy its presence. If we feel threatened, we push it away or step away. This is a common pattern in romantic encounters.

When something is close, it looks bigger. It fills our field of vision. We cannot but help look at such things.

In pictures, an object in the foreground may well grab our initial attention. In this way, the artist or photographer can control the locus of our eyes as they move around the picture. A close object combined with things in the background also helps give the impression of depth.

So what?

If you want to get a person's attention, move closer to them, but beware of them seeing this as a threat. If you want them to look at something, put it in front of them or ask them to look more closely at it.

See also

Threat, Proxemic Communication


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