“You are violating my personal bubble”

May 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

Diagram of Edward T. Hall’s personal reaction bubbles (1966), showing radius in feet

two people not affecting each other’s personal space

reaction of two people whose personal space in conflict

Proxemics  is the spacing between two people as they interact. The term was coined by Anthropologist Edward T. Hall in 1966. “….the study of man’s transactions as he perceives and uses intimate, personal, social and public space in various settings while following out of awareness dictates of cultural paradigms.” -Hall. The category of proxemics is most commonly sub-grouped into physical territory and personal territory, although proxemics can also be identified in several other forms such as: eye-contact, facial expression, smells, body warmth, gender, and the number of people involved. The area of personal territory is further sub-grouped as: public space- ranging in 12-25 feet between people, social space- ranging from 4-10 feet between people, personal space-between 2-4 feet of separation and finally intimate space- a foot or less of separation. The physical distance between them is related to their social distance. For example people who know each other very well often communicate in the intimate space, which is about 1.5 feet away from each other. People who stand within a smaller distance than 1.5 feet are also known as close-talkers. These people tend to make others uncomfortable. If two people are communicating who are simply acquaintances they will most likely communicate in the social space which is about 12 feet from each other.

Proxemics varies by culture, gender, social setting and the individual’s preference. This can be demonstrated by visiting something as simple as a grocery store in different countries and interacting with different kinds of people. Often in the United States it can be considered very rude to stand 1 foot behind a stranger when standing in line to purchase your goods. Americans would also consider a person only a foot behind them to be in their “personal space” and would probably step forward and gain some distance. If you were to visit a popular grocery store in the country of China, you would find people standing almost directly behind each other (within about a 2 foot range) trying to fight their way up to the register to pay. If you were to leave any space in front of you (say two feet) people waiting in the line behind you would very likely cut directly in front of you if they saw that there was space available. The Chinese and Mexicans have a much more densely populated country than a country like the United States, so people there tend to be much more comfortable coming into close contact with strangers around them. This can have disadvantages, one of them being an increased risk of pickpocketing when you are frequently bumping into strangers and not thinking much of it. Also, in America most times it is strange, to bring up a random topic, and in Mexico it is perfectly fine because it makes great conversation.

Personal space : One’s own sense of invisible boundaries that detaches themselves from other bodies is known as an individual’s personal space. Everyone’s sense of personal space varies according to personal comfort as well as cultural norms. This seemingly invisible space, if violated or pressured, serves as a form of nonverbal communication across the globe. While people in the U.S. tend to respect others’ space to a large degree, it is perfectly normal to be sharing your space with another to a close degree in many Asian countries such as China. Aside from a culture’s norm on personal space and boundaries, there is no denying that space is used to communicate as well. “You are violating my personal bubble,” or “please give me my space,” are common phrases in America that are used to inform others that they are simply too close for their personal comfort. Violating another’s personal space can be a form of intimidation in many cases. For example, bullies often use this technique of getting close to a person’s face and hovering over them to simply show their dominance without ever saying a word. They may puff up their chest, raise their shoulders, and/or rise up onto their toes in order to make themselves taller and more intimidating. However, getting into another’s personal space can also be flirtatious or friendly. A simple touch on the shoulder can be a way of showing friendliness, while a brush up against someone’s leg with your own can be a sign of flirtation. Space, when concentrated on, can tell an individual many things about another person as far as personality, dominance, and motives are concerned.

For an experiment, try getting in a public elevator and facing backwards. Have you ever noticed that basically everyone in public elevators stands facing front? Try facing backwards and notice how people feel their personal space is being violated or jeopardized. Personal space varies from culture to culture however, so maybe facing backwards in an elevator is quite common in other cultures.

As said in the experiment personal space varies from culture to culture, for example in Latin America. In Latin American countries what is considered personal space is much closer. A Latino/a will stand much closer to you when speaking and if someone from the U.S. stands far away (which is the norm for an American) it may be taken as rude or seems as if you are uninterested in the conversation.


invisible, mais virtuel!


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