Space Invader: Patient with Amygdala Damage Disregards Personal Space

Recent research by Ralph Adolphs, a neuroscientist at Cal Tech, suggests that the amygdala, an almond-shaped brain structure buried deep within the temporal lobes, is important for maintaining a sense of personal space. When walking up to a stranger, most people prefer to keep their distance– while the precise distance depends on the individual, we usually stop about two feet away from someone to make sure they (and we!) feel psychologically comfortable. Interestingly, Dr. Adolphs found that an individual with damage to the amygdala felt perfectly comfortable invading others’ personal space. In fact, in some instances, the patient approached another person so closely that their noses touched! These interesting findings suggest that the amygdala may be important in helping us maintain our social graces and respect others’ personal space.