What Is Proximity Psychology

By Joy Youell|Updated April 14, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Avia James, LPC

Proximity psychology is all about grouping. Sometimes, the way that we group things alters how we perceive a variety of different things in life. These dynamics can impact the way we see relationships, hobbies, sports, and even physical objects. Understanding this dynamic and how to address it in our own minds is a powerful tool for mental wellness.

Wondering How Useful Self-Monitoring Is?

Proximity plays a significant part in how we relate to other people. Gestalt psychologists explain that proximity improves observation and perception skills. In other words, we interpret many things in a relative way, from people to ideas to experiences. This is important because our perception largely influences how we behave.

The Law of Proximity

This law simply states that objects and shapes that are close to one another will eventually start to form groups. Even if they are very different, they will appear as though they are close. It mainly showcases smaller elements and how they're "assembled" in the composition itself. This is known as grouping. This principle concerns the effects that are created when the collective presence of these elements becomes more meaningful than the presence of different features.

An example of this is arranging words and sentences into titles. This is a way to group otherwise unrelated elements that enhances the meaning of a concept. Grouping can have either a visual or psychological meaning and can even be entirely separate from the original purpose of the elements themselves. Sometimes the grouped elements create the illusion of shapes, planes, or even some sort of objects in space, even if they don't touch. Grouping can be attained by using different elemental attributes, including but not limited to:

  • Physical characteristics
  • Size
  • Color
  • Shape
  • Tone or value
  • Any other way

Why Use This?

This principle allows us to perceive certain stimuli that tend to be closer to each other through grouping. We can even recognize them as similar objects. In the same vein, those that stand out from the other ones are typically parts of different objects. The distance between the objects is subject to perception.

The same principle allows us to group smaller elements into bigger sets. Cognitively, this principle is useful, as it prevents the over-processing of various stimuli. We are hit with many different stimuli every single day. Think of all the things that you see daily, including different shapes, colors, and objects of all sizes. Using proximity psychology makes the processing of the varied stimuli much more natural. In other words, if you have trouble gauging the right social response, it may be a useful practice to spend five minutes at the beginning of a social event scanning the room and observing people's dress, behavior, tone, and social pattern. If you think about it, it's a very efficient way to ensure that your body isn't overstimulated. Instead, elements are viewed on a much broader scale, making it easier for your brain to process and comprehend.

How It Applies To Relationships

The principle of proximity psychology can be applied to your relationships. People unconsciously form social relationships with those who are physically or visually closest to themselves. Remember, proximity isn't just the similarity between different objects, but also how close these objects, including people, are to you.

A person who is sitting in a chair next to you is much closer than the person sitting in a different room. You're closer to your lab partner than you are to a person who's three rows away from you.

Without any conscious choice, you are more likely to form social relationships with those whom you sit near. You may become friends with your lab partner rather than the person who's three rows away or the person who's in the class next-door simply because you see them more often.

Wondering How Useful Self-Monitoring Is?

This is also how childhood friendships are made. Children don't have the autonomy of traveling outside their immediate sphere to connect with others. As we age, we enjoy the benefit of being around people who are similar in lifestyle, language, and habits. It is important as we grow older that we address relationships with more maturity and intention. Diversifying our relationships is vital to widening our worldviews. Proximity should no longer be the only determining factor for our friendships.

Proximity And How It Alters The Way We See Reality

Perception affects how we see reality and how we view objects. For example, you may have seen photographs of a building, a telephone pole, or a lamppost growing out of someone's head. Or you may have seen an optical illusion of something appearing to extend out of another person. Perception determines how we interpret our reality and how we view objects around us.

The moment you look at a picture, for instance, you're viewing a different reality. Pictures are essentially two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional reality. Everything is on the same plane, and that's why the image reflected in the picture seems different than its actual existence.

This is also why if you look at separate pictures of various items, you may notice that they look "different." That's because the proximity of the images eventually starts to aggregate together. Photos don't showcase the actual reality of the nature of the object at hand.

Is Grouping Always Right?

Our minds tend to associate similarities with one another. Grouping can cause issues because not all objects can be successfully grouped at all times. Grouping is also an opportunity for labeling or even typecasting. These are typically unhealthy approaches to understanding people. People are highly complex and are not primarily defined subjectively as they relate to one another.

Increased Awareness Through Counseling

Many of us like to believe that the negative sides of proximity effects do not apply to us and that we live our lives relatively free from bias. But negative grouping can take hold at a very young age. Grouping might even affect your perception of online therapy. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, some were doubtful about the merits of online counseling. Research consistently shows that remote counseling delivers the same treatment and success as in-person options. But as people had no other option but to seek online therapy, many are overcoming their biases.  We all live with biases and group the world around us in ways that we hardly understand. This is completely normal and healthy. In some instances, however, our grouping behavior can reinforce stereotypes, or even lead us to more negative thoughts and actions. The Harvard Business Review provides additional resources to help you minimize bias from your decision-making.

Online counseling is a powerful tool to overcome any sort of perception issues. If you find that you frequently misunderstand or are misunderstood, you may have an undeveloped ability to identify differences in groups of people. BetterHelp online licensed counselors can get to the bottom of your issues. Many of our clients have been empowered and have successfully discovered mental wellness through our services. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing a range of issues related to how we interact with the people around us.

Counselor Reviews

"Robin has helped me get through some of my darkest days. I've gotten a lot of clarity from speaking with her, and she has helped me understand people and situations by looking at it from a different perspective, which has been eye-opening. I can't thank Robin enough."

"I've only worked with Thelma for a short period of time, but she has been very helpful thus far. My biggest concern about counseling was that I would not be provided actual tools to help overcome the obstacles in my life. Thelma has eliminated that concern by helping me dive deeper to better understand the source of my problems and how I can work through them. I highly recommend working with her!"

Enhancing Your Perception

If you're someone who wants to get better at perception or to overcome any kind of social or personality challenges, consider talking to a therapist. Having strong mental health is essential for developing relationships of any kind. Establishing and understanding your nature and identity is the best starting point. Take the first step today.

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