Episode 69: Personal Space Invasions – Ethical Implications of one of Psychology’s Strangest Studies

Remember the psychological study conducted in a men’s room? Think it was silly? Unethical? Let’s revisit this study and take a close look at what the critics say and what the authors themselves have to say in response. A fascinating look at the ethics and history of research in psychology.

Resources for this Episode

  • Personal Space Invasions – this is episode 16 in which I first discussed this strange but memorable study.
  • The article discussed in this episode is Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S. & Matter, C.F. (1976). Personal Space Invasions in the Lavatory: Suggestive Evidence for Arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33 (5), 541-546.
  • The popular press article which criticized the study (in an off-handed way) is called "Bathroom Behaviors" and it appeared in the APA Monitor on November of 1977, 8 (11), 21.

  • The critique by Koocher: Koocher, G.P. (1977). Bathroom Behavior and Human Dignity (1977). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (2), 120-121.
  • The reply by Middlemist, et al.: Middlemist, R., Knowles, E.S., & Matter, C.F. (1977). What to Do and What to Report: A Reply to Koocher. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (2), 122-124.
  • Many thanks to Dr. Blaine Peden of the University of Wisconson-Eau Claire for all his help in putting this episode together.
  • Thanks also to Steven Soifer, founder of the Shy Bladder Center, for agreeing to be interviewed for this episode.
  • This episode from NPR is a video on personal space in Second Life: “Avatar gender and personal space invasion anxiety level in desktop collaborative virtual environments.”
  • The Shy Bladder Center website
  • The International Paruresis Association website


Episode 16: Personal Space Invasion: What Happens When Someone Invades Your Personal Space?

Do feel slightly uncomfortable in the bathroom? How does the presence of others in the bathroom affect you? What about places other than the bathroom? How close is too close? A psychological study was done in 1976 in which psychology researchers hid in men’s bathrooms to observe…well, you’ll find out. Learn more about personal space in this episode of The Psych Files.

The article discussed in this episode:

Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S. & Matter, C.F. (1976). Personal Space Invasions in the Lavatory: Suggestive Evidence for Arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33 (5), 541-546.


Click here to listen to a follow-up episode in which I discuss how the authors of this study responded to criticisms of their ethical procedures.


Watch this episode from NPR video on personal space in Second Life: “Avatar gender and personal space invasion anxiety level in desktop collaborative virtual environments.”

Helpful Links:

Shy Bladder website
Paruresis website