The term proxemics was coined in 1963 by the cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his book The Hidden Dimension. This concept originated from the studies of animal behavior conducted in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, it examines how humans use space in their interaction with other members of their community and with their environment.
Moreover, proxemics is one of the six aspects studied by nonverbal communication along with semiotics (sign language), haptics (touch), chronemics (time) and kinesics (body language).
Proxemics: How Do Humans Conceive Space
Proxemics is defined as the study of cultural, behavioral, and sociological aspects of spatial distances between individuals. On this regard, Edward T. Hall claims that human interaction is limited by four distinct zones:
- Intimate distance (0-45 cm/0-18 inches): this is the distance at which we keep our romantic partners or very close friends. It allows other people to touch, embrace, and kiss us;
- Personal distance (45-120 cm/18-48 inches): the distance at which we let our family and friends talk to us;
- Social distance (1,2-3,5 m/4-10 feet): at this distance we speak to a customer at work or a colleague;
- Public distance (over 3,5 m/10 feet): the distance between us and a public figure/speaker. This is the distance between students and professors during a lecture for example.
According to Edward T. Hall, proxemics is very useful because it allows people to understand how different communities organize their town and their homes. It influences the way people define their territories. Proxemics is, for example, the reason why the sizes of the rooms in people’s homes vary from culture to culture.
The study of proxemics has had a significant influence in different fields. In the film industry, proxemics has allowed directors to understand how the distance between the camera and the actors influences the level of attachment the audience develops towards the character. Moreover, proxemics and the study of space is fundamental in the field of communication technology.
Children learn proxemics from their parents in the same way they learn to speak. Therefore, proxemics varies by cultures as languages do. Being aware of this difference may help us better interact with people from other countries by showing respect for their personal space and by understanding what stands behind certain type of behavior. Being able to comprehend why a person who keeps a large – or too small – distance from use in a work context, for instance, prevents misunderstandings and may help us create better business relationships which is advantageous form more than one point of view.