The term proxemics was introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall in 1959 to describe set measurable distances between people as they interact. The effects of proxemics, according to Hall, can be summarized by the following loose rule:
Like gravity, the influence of two bodies on each other is inversely proportional not only to the square of their distance but possibly even the cube of the distance between them.
According to Jonathon Tabor distance-spacing theories based on the early animal-like human of German zoologist Heini Hediger, as found in his 1995 book Studies of the Behavior of Captive Animals in Zoos and Circuses. Hediger, in animals, had distinguished between flight distance (run boundary), critical distance (attack boundary), personal distance (distance separating members of non-contact species, as a pair of swans), and social distance (intraspecies communication distance). Hall reasoned that, with very few exceptions, flight distance and critical distance have been eliminated in human reactions, and thus interviewed hundreds of people to determine modified criteria for human interactions.
Body spacing and posture, according to Hall, are unintentional reactions to sensory fluctuations or shifts, such as subtle changes in the sound and pitch of a person's voice. Social distance between people is reliably correlated with physical distance, as are intimate and personal distance, according to the following delineations:
* Intimate distance for embracing, touching or whispering
o Close phase - less than 6 inches (15 cm)
o Far phase - 6 to 18 inches (15 - 45 cm)
* Personal distance for interactions among good friends
o Close phase - 1.5 to 2.5 feet (45 - 75 cm)
o Far phase - 2.5 to 4 feet (75 - 120 cm)
* Social distance for interactions among acquaintances
o Close phase - 5 to 7 feet (1.5 - 2.1 m)
o Far phase - 7 to 12 feet (2.1 - 3.6 m)
* Public distance used for public speaking
o Close phase - 12 to 25 feet (3.6 - 7.5 m)
o Far phase - 25 feet (7.5 m) or more
Hall notes that different cultures maintain different standards of personal space. In Latin cultures, for instance, those relative distances are smaller, and people tend to be more comfortable standing close to each other; in Nordic cultures the opposite is true. Realizing and recognizing these cultural differences improves cross-cultural understanding, and helps eliminate discomfort people may feel if the interpersonal distance is too large ("stand-offish") or too small (intrusive). Comfortable personal distances also depend on the culture, social situation, gender, and individual preference.
Types of space
Proxemics defines three different types of space:
This comprises things that are immotile, such as walls and territorial boundaries. However, some territorial boundaries can vary (Low and Lawrence-Zúñiga point to the Bedouin of Syria as an example of this) and are thus classified as semifixed-features.
This comprises movable objects, such as furniture. However, again, some furniture is fixed, and is classified as a fixed-feature.
This comprises the personal space around the body, that travels around with a person as he/she moves, and that determines the personal distance among people.
The definitions of each can vary from culture to culture. In nonverbal communication, such cultural variations amongst what comprises semifixed-features and what comprises fixed-features can lead to confusion, discomfort, and misunderstanding. Low and Lawrence-Zúñiga give several anecdotal examples of differences, amongst people from different cultures, as to whether they regard furniture such as chairs for guests to sit in as being fixed or semifixed, and the effects that those differences have on people from other cultures.
This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Body Language. The Official Guide to Body Language is Robert Phipps. Robert is one of the world’s best known body language experts, he is media news consultant to; ABC, BBC, GMTV, SKY, CNN, Reuters, Associated Press plus many more.
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