Tuesday, January 24, 2012


SPATIAL AWARENESS AND “PROPRIOCEPTION.” Not unlike “Munchausen syndrome” or “echolalia,” “proprioception” is one of those cool medical terms that when removed from its clinical context, offers up opportunity for humorous misappropriation.

Officially, proprioception refers to an individual’s position-movement sensation or “sense of locomotion,” as originally described. In other words, it is one’s own sense of perception of the relative position of parts of the body. (For example, law enforcement employs this in the field sobriety test that requires a subject to touch his or her nose with eyes closed.) Walking and chewing gum at the same time is another oft-cited test.

Consider proprioception as the evolving affliction of “spatial retardation.” It manifests itself most noticeably with cellphone misuse, but also in a broader sense through individuals’ lack of awareness of their surroundings; rudeness; and actions that show general disregard for others’ space and time.

Aging, maturity and social moirés influence our understanding of proprioception. Next time you witness an older adult wandering seemingly without direction or waiting for a chair to stop moving in order to sit down, think of those much younger and healthier social misfits who give new meaning to faulty proprioception.

For example, there’s the individual who walks into a mall fountain while texting; or who stops in the middle of the road to chat with friends; who’s blather sucks the air out of the room; who doesn’t offer their seat to an older person getting on a bus; who stands in the front row of a concert; who sneezes into their hand and then extends it to shake; who lets one rip in a crowded elevator; and worst of all, who races past stand-still traffic to the end of the merge lane and expects others to allow him or her to cut ahead.

In a civilized world, we would be more patient with people, especially older adults, challenged with their own proprioception. And perpetrators of anti-social proprioception or spatial retardation would be ostracized or cited.

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