Friday Weird Science: Get off my beach blanket!

Aug 09 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

It's summertime, and that means it's time to head to the beach. And of course, when there's only a limited amount of beach, a limited amount of summer, and lots of people, well, you get crowded beaches.

crowded-beach

(Suddenly, the beach is less appealing. Source)

What's the first thing that anyone does when they go to the beach? No, it's not running straight into the water or put on your sunscreen or whatever. When you get to the beach, the first thing you do is claim towel (and umbrella, if you are an umbrella type) territory. You gotta stake your claim! Usually you need a place to put however many towels out, umbrellas, maybe a cooler, toys for kids. Things. Beach things. You need space for that. And a place to park your butt when the sea is too cold and the sand is too hot, or to soak up some rays (which, it should be noted, has its health hazards, esp when a book is involved. I gave myself a second degree sunburn once trying to finish "Pillars of the Earth", because I forgot to do things like roll over or put on sunblock. This is why beach reads should not be TOO interesting).

And when you look for a spot on the beach...well you don't want to just up and set your towel RIGHT NEXT to someone else. Especially if the beach is less crowded. It just...it looks weird, ok? If you don't know them, it's weird.

But how much space do you give? What's the personal space beach bubble diameter?

Would you believe that someone has done science on this?

H.W. Smith. "Territorial Space on a Beach Revisited: A Cross-National Exploration.

You will note that the title includes the phrase "revisited". Meaning this guy has published on this MORE THAN ONCE. You can never have too much personal space. Or personal space studies, I suppose.

The purpose of this paper wasn't just beach spacing. It was also a question of nationality. If you have been to more than one country, you've probably noticed that people have different conceptions of personal space than you do. Some cultures are close talkers, and some require a LOT of personal space. It can lead to awkward interactions if you don't know what to expect.

But does this carry over into beach blanket territory? The author wanted to know. He gave out surveys at German and French beaches, roughly of the same size, asking how many people were in a party, whether they felt the beach was crowded, when it would be over-crowded, etc. While the people were taking the surveys, a helper noted the ages of the group members, and what they were using to mark their "territory" and the depth and width of the territory they claimed. He compared the data to a previous study done on American beaches, to compare the three groups.

The results? Men tended to "claim" more territory than women. Larger groups tend to claim less space per person, basically putting their towels closer together. The territory size of Germans and Americans were more circular in shape than the French territories, which were more "elliptical". Americans claimed the largest territories, followed by Germans and then the French. When asked how many people it would take for the beach to be crowded, the French had by far the highest crowding estimates (meaning they felt the beach would fit the most people), while the Germans had the lowest (Americans falling in the middle).

So if you want a nice LARGE piece of beach for yourself...go to America or Germany, and avoid France. The power of SCIENCE, my friends.

There are some questions here which I think they study didn't take in to account (part of me is marveling at the fact that I have any scientific questions at ALL about personal territory around beach blankets. Such is the scientific mind, I suppose). First, is the beach spacing here a result of general country culture, or the result of population density? For example, if you compare people at the beach from Manhatten and people at the beach from North Dakota, they generally live in very different population densities. Does this affect their beach territory size?

Secondly, how is this impacted by things like the number of kids on the beach? If you've got a beach full of sedate 60 somethings, that's a very different beach from one full of screaming children. That's probably going to impact how much distance you give between yourself and the next group. Not only that, the author noted that the German beach was MARKED for specific groups, one area for people with kids, one for people with dogs, one for nudists, etc. French and American beaches generally aren't marked that way. German beach-goers even put up SIGNS saying that their part of the beach was reserved for them between time X and Y, and divided up their areas with sand castles. The German beaches therefore might have more of a territory-like aspect to them to begin with. If you walk on to the beach and other people are obviously claiming territory...aren't you more likely to do the same?

Finally, there's something that really skewed the data. While the French certainly divided up beach territory with items (towels, etc), they had no CONCEPT of needing to do so. When asked, French respondents said the beach was for everyone, and who were they to say they needed a certain amount of space? While that says nice things about putting your towel down at a French beach, it kind of messes with the conclusions. How can you measure territory if one of the groups you're looking at doesn't have the concept?

But the final conclusion? I guess the French have a smaller concept of personal beach space. What does it matter? Well...your guess is as good as mine.

SONY DSC

(Source)

 

 

9 responses so far

  • Katy says:

    Interesting and fun article.

    I'm sure the research was enjoyable.

  • Lee says:

    Forget Germany & America, come to Australia. Seriously you'll have more than enough space.
    And sometimes you'll have the beach to yourself :-)

  • "When asked, French respondents said the beach was for everyone, and who were they to say they needed a certain amount of space? While that says nice things about putting your towel down at a French beach, it kind of messes with the conclusions. How can you measure territory if one of the groups you're looking at doesn't have the concept?"

    Just because the French *say* they don't care about space doesn't mean their behavior accords with that. People are fantastically bad at intuiting their own behavior.

  • bethhyz says:

    "If you have been to more than one country, you've probably noticed that people have different conceptions of personal space than you do"

    Or if you haven't? In the US, I meet all kinds of people with all kinds of personal space levels. Some people will hug you the first or second time you meet them. Some people will never hug you. Some people will shake your hand, some will fistbump. Some people will sit right next to you in a waiting room when they don't have to; others will do the god damn decent thing and leave at least one chair of buffer zone. Some girls will poop loudly when they know you're in the stall next to them; I won't even pee until you leave in case I also fart. Everyone has their own definition of personal space.2

  • bethhyz says:

    "Forget Germany & America, come to Australia. Seriously you'll have more than enough space.
    And sometimes you'll have the beach to yourself"

    I have the beach to myself all the time here in the US. It's not hard to find privacy if you don't need a lifeguard on hand.

  • rwill says:

    "...if you compare people at the beach from Manhattan and people at the beach from North Dakota, they generally live in very different population densities. Does this affect their beach territory size?"
    The question of population density may be interesting but really? Don't you need an ocean before you can have a beach, therefore perhaps North Carolina, but not N. Dakota? If not, the question then is, how large a sandy shore is required to properly be called a beach? For that matter, how large an expanse of water and sand is necessary for a "beach" (vs cove, hide away or some other smaller designation)?
    The relevance is, what is the effect of a large or smaller expanse of sand and/or water? How does this physical and presumably psychological space change territorial needs? Perhaps I missed the correlation or lack thereof with the same population's land and indoor space requirements.

  • […] So if you want a nice LARGE piece of beach for yourself…go to America or Germany, and avoid France. The power of SCIENCE, my friends. Read More > at Neurotic Physiology […]

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