Personal Space

Personal space is likely not something you consciously think about; how distant or close you stand to someone, whether you're having a normal conversation or if you're exchanging pleasantries. However, recent events have forced us to be more conscious about the space we maintain between others. 

Personal Space Personal Space

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Contents
Table of contents

    For instance, a social distancing between people since the start of COVID-19 has become the new norm. Would this change impact the quality of our relationships with others? To understand more about this, let's delve into learning about personal space in psychology!

    • To learn more about personal space in psychology, we will start by looking at the personal space meaning.
    • To further your understanding of the topic, we will look at how personal space may differ from person to person; this will be covered in the context of personal space in communication.
    • To finish off, we will cover the different types of personal space in psychology whilst looking at various personal space examples.

    Personal space, Vector of two people wearing masks with an arrow between them suggesting maintaining two metre distance, StudySmarterTo combat rising COVID-19 rates, the government had to enforce social distancing rules. freepik.com.

    Personal Space in Psychology

    What one person may think of as personal space may differ from another. People with say social anxiety may have difficulties maintaining close contact. However, this may be the opposite for those who are highly extroverted.

    Who the individual is with can also influence personal space. You will probably be more comfortable standing close to your best friend than a stranger. These factors suggest that our relationship with others and mental health can influence personal space.

    The Personal Space Meaning

    Before we learn more about the different types of personal space, let's find out what exactly personal space means.

    Personal space is the physical distance between one person and another.

    Personal space can be considered a boundary with which one feels comfortable. However, these boundaries can be violated in specific situations, such as when confronting someone or if a person is unaware of the other's boundaries.

    Personal Space in Communication

    Usually, when we talk to others, there are unspoken rules, such as taking turns to speak and maintaining a suitable distance from the other. When you have a close or intimate relationship with the other person, during the conversation, you may maintain close proximity.

    However, distant proximity may be kept when talking to a stranger, someone you are not close to or dislike. Over time, as the relationship changes, the personal space may change as you get more intimate or distant from the other.

    Personal space is our "comfort zone". When it is breached, we often begin to feel uncomfortable.

    Charlie and Luke have been best friends for many years, and they were talking in the park. The two stood relatively close to each other but at some distance. During the conversation, Charlie noticed Luke lying and questioned him about it.

    Luke denied it, and Charlie got angry and started shouting. As he got angrier, Charlie moved closer to Luke whilst Luke tried to back away.

    The example shows that due to Charlie getting angry, he breached the personal space proximity that was usually maintained between the friends. The change in distance between the two made Luke uncomfortable, which explains why he tried to back away.

    From this, we can understand that personal space is a type of non-verbal communication that allows us to express without saying anything the intimacy of a relationship, express our emotions and let others know when we are uncomfortable.

    Personal Space and Individual Differences

    As you may recall, the personal space an individual feels comfortable with can vary from person to person, but what factors contribute to these differences?

    Edward Hall (1963) coined the term proxemics, the study of how we use space and how our experiences and culture influence personal space. The domain highlights that several factors influence personal space. Understanding these differences can help people understand and ensure that our presence does not cause discomfort to others.

    Let's delve in to learn more about some of these factors!

    Personal space, Vector of diverse group of people standing united together, StudySmarterPersonal space that individuals feel comfortable with is influenced by individual differences such as culture, status and gender, freepik.com/macrovector.

    Cultural Differences

    The personal space we are comfortable with can be influenced by cultural differences.

    Western society is often referred to as an individual society.

    An individualistic society is characterised by people in countries that prioritise their own needs rather than the collective community. They are often independent.

    In western countries, people usually keep a relatively large distance from strangers, and when greeting someone new, a handshake is typically used.

    Whereas in heavily dense populated countries such as India, being close, even when in contact with strangers, is common and may not make them feel uncomfortable. The reasoning behind this is that standing close to others is a common thing due to the lack of room for personal space.

    Status Differences

    Status differences can influence personal space. If your boss pats your back and says well done, this is acceptable.

    However, if an employee does this, is it as well received?

    The answer is no. The higher status of the boss allows them to provide feedback to employees that is well received, as it is expected. The lower status of the employee doesn't permit them to have close proximity to their boss, however, as it would be considered inappropriate.

    Sometimes breaching others' personal space is used as a tool to enforce their high status.

    Bullies may try and get in other people's faces, which is a form of violating others' personal space and instilling fear that can be used to show and maintain their perceived higher status.

    Gender Differences

    There is much debate about whether males or females prefer more distanced personal space. Some argue that males prefer more psychological and physical distance.

    Males may have this preference to come across as masculine, which is affected by society's perceptions and expectations

    In contrast, some suggest that females prefer to maintain more distance due to fear.

    A more holistic way of looking at gender differences and personal space is that males and females have different preferences or responses to those seeking to get closer to them.

    It's important to note that gender differences are likely to differ in people of different ages and depending on the setting/context of the situation.

    The Study of Proxemics

    Now that we understand how personal space for one may differ from another', let's learn about the different types of personal space that Edward Hall proposed.

    Types of Personal Space

    During Halls' research on proxemics, he identified four types of personal space (interpersonal space):

    • Intimate Space - the distance between two people is usually about 15 to 45 centimetres. Intimate distance suggests that you have a close relationship and that both are comfortable. Examples of this type of personal space are when people hug, kiss, and touch.
    • Personal Space - the distance maintained is usually between 45 and 120 centimetres. Personal distance usually occurs when talking or in the presence of those with whom we have a somewhat intimate relationship with, such as our close friends and family.
    • Social Space - typically, the distance ranges between 1.2 to 3.5 metres. In this context, social space refers to the distance you keep when meeting acquaintances.

    People may keep the 1.2-metre distance when meeting someone they don't know well at all, such as a delivery man. But, keep a closer distance when meeting a friend from their previous school.

    • Public Space - is when the distance between two people ranges from 3.5 to 7.5 metres. Public distance is common when doing public speaking activities such as presenting to your classmates.

    Personal space - Key takeaways

    • Personal space is the physical distance between one and another. Personal space can be considered a boundary with which one feels comfortable. However, these boundaries can be violated in specific situations, such as when confronting someone or if a person is unaware of the other's boundaries.
    • It is a form of non-verbal communication that allows us to express without saying anything the intimacy of a relationship, our emotions and let others know when we are uncomfortable.
    • Edward Hall coined the term proxemics, the study of how we use space and how our experiences and culture influence personal space.
    • Several factors influence the personal space that people feel comfortable with, such as culture, status and gender differences.
    • Hall identified four types of personal space: intimate, personal, social and public space, each growing in distance.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Space

    Why is personal space important in communication?

    Personal space is important in communication because it allows us to express without saying anything the intimacy of a relationship, our emotions and to let others know when we are uncomfortable.

    What is an example of personal space?

    An example of personal space is intimate space. The space between people is usually around 15 to 45 centimetres. The distance suggests that the individuals have a close and intimate relationship that both people are comfortable with one another. Examples of this type of personal space are when people hug, kiss, and touch.

    What is personal space in psychology?

    Personal space is the physical distance between one person and another. Personal space in psychology suggests several factors influence the distance we keep between others, such as personality types, mental health illnesses, culture, gender and status. 

    What are the four levels of personal space? 

    The four levels of personal space are:


    • Intimate space
    • Personal space 
    • Social space 
    • Public space 

    What are the 3 types of personal space?

    Three examples of the four types of personal space are: 


    • Intimate space 
    • Social space 
    • Public space 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What type of communication is personal space?

    Are people in highly populated countries likely more comfortable with close proximity? 

    Hugging and touching are examples of which type of personal space? 

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