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Observation of some personal spaces in a train.

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Observation of personal spaces, seats at a counter.

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Observation of other public spaces



Personal Space- Importance

 the personal space. This air space around us is not only a buffer zone so we won't stumble into each other, but also a private area that we consider almost as an extension of our body, for granted not because we don't appreciate it enough, but because we hardly even think, or aware about it. 

Space Invasion (no, not from Mars)

The best way to understand the importance of personal space is to look at what happens when it's invaded.  Let's start with a little metaphor:Do you know by chance the movie "Bubble Boy"? – It's a film about a boy who lives inside an actual plastic bubble. Due to his very weak immune system he needs the bubble to protect him from the environmental hazards around him.What this has to do with us? Not the intention of publicizing the movie, believe me, it's not that great. But the bubble is a great metaphor to our personal space – we treat it as our "private air space" and we feel very vulnerable when someone intrudes it without invitation. Obviously, it's not the environmental hazards that we fear, but rather that awkward, annoying feeling when someone stands too close. 

There are actually many psychological and physical effects that are immediately activated when someone is getting too close. They cause us to behave a little different than usual, some examples (not all of them must occur):

   Extreme self awareness – suddenly we forget how to act 'naturally'

   Limited movements and gestures

   Reduced eye contact

   Turning aside or away from the intruder

   We'll usually immediately take a step back.

   Adopting a defensive position – folded arms, less smiles, frowning, tense posture.

   Stopping the conversation entirely.

The complexity of personal space comes from the fact that its size is affected by many factors; some of them are very varied from person to person. These factors actually cause a social 'accident', when different people have a different concept about the 'right distance' to stand from each other. Some of these factors are:

   The social situation

   The  personal relation with that person 

   The status of the people involved

   Our personal liking or disliking towards that specific person

   The gender

   Culture– perhaps the most major factor. 

Different cultures have their own measurement of the 'right' personal space.


   The density of our living space


Personal Space  - Factors


Women are more sociable than men: they get social cues better, more emotionally expressive and are generally better than us men when it comes to emotional communication. It's only natural then that women will feel more comfortable being closer to each other than men. Men are more territorial and aggressive by nature and will keep more distance from other men, but when it comes to women we will usually prefer to get a little closer (except the really shy ones among us).


The culture we grew up in has a tremendous affect on who we are as individuals, whether we like it or not. One of its direct influences is on the size of the individual personal space.'Distant' cultures (northern Europe, US, and many other westerns cultures) tend to keep more personal space and use less touching than other more 'warm' cultures.Asian cultures are characterized by more accommodating accepting attitude when it comes to personal space, the theory says it's due to more crowded living conditions. Other cultures including south Europe, Middle East and South American's are considered to be more 'warm' by nature – touch and close proximity are more welcome and socially accepted.Obviously, generalizing this information is a big mistake. It's not my intention to say that all Europeans are distant and Asians like to crowd, it's merely an overall cultural code. Don't let this stereotypes affect you judgment of other cultures either, like Einstein said – "it's all relative". If you come from a "warmer" culture, for example, western cultures may seem distant – but only for you. Among themselves, Europeans feel natural and "OK" with their personal space. So when arriving to a foreign country it would be smart to adjust yourself to the cultural codes of personal space of the place - it will only serve you better in creating good connections.There's also a difference between country living culture and the urban city lifestyle – country people are used to live in a vast and mildly populated areas while city dwellers are more used to crowding.  This means that city dwellers will usually have a smaller personal space than country people due to this habit of density.


Your status has a huge effect on your personal space size and demand. First of all – like the alpha male of the pack, the higher your status the more space you consider to be yours. It's no surprise that the first class seats are bigger and have more space per individual. Status also affects the size of the territory you require. Just Like the kings of old owned a huge palace – not because they needed 20 bedrooms and an Olympic swimming pool, but because it showed the measure of their power and influence. In modern days we have the equivalent mansions of the rich and famous to demonstrate their wealth and rich lifestyle.When it comes to dominant – subordinate relationships it means that the high status person can invade the space of the lower status person without too much resistance, and sometimes he's even encouraged to do so.E.g. if you'll meet your favorite movie star – you will welcome his company and even his touch – even though he's almost a complete stranger to you. But it won't go the other way around – it will be highly inappropriate to get too close to that star without a clear invitation to do so.Obviously, this rule applies even if you don't really like the person of the higher status. Even if you hate your boss, it's completely acceptable for him to visit you in your office without a direct invitation. Getting uninvited into your boss's office and seating on his chair however can lead to some interesting results.


What type of social situation is this? Is it a cocktail party? Is it a staff meeting in the boardroom? A fishing trip with some friends? A public lecture?In each of these situations you'll act and keep your space differently. Even if these are the exact same people.For example – you'll probably keep a distance from your boss (probably the same one from the previous example) during work, but on a fishing trip together some of the social borders will fall down, and you'll feel more comfortable being in closer distance. However, when you'll get back to work again, you'll retain the appropriate work space between you.


It's most relevant when talking about children. Children are much more open and naïve in nature than adults – that's because they lack some of the 'social boundaries' that limit us as adults. Therefore – if a kid really likes you he'll run and hug you when he sees you, without too much worry about your readiness for such an "assault" (:

Purpose & Personality

So far I was talking about environmental and general factors that affect the size of our personal space, but we also need to take into consideration some personal or character based reasons behind it.What do I mean?It means that if we put aside all the other factors, the reason why someone acts as he does is entirely depends on his attitude, mood, intention or relation to you. It's the most obvious factor that we almost always consider to be the right one. "Why does he stand so far away from me?" – "Because he's a snob" "because he doesn't like me" "because he's introvert and shy"It's usually the first thing that comes to our mind automatically – because we tend to judge people subjectively, focusing on the reasons that involves us and our point of view – after all, the world is about "me", right? And sometimes it's justified, just make sure to rule out the other factors first.Some people, for example, invade personal space on purpose – both to intimidate them and consequently manipulate them. Other people try to use this tactic to further advance a relationship into a more intimate level, ironically, this very thing can cause the opposite reaction.When it comes to personality, extrovert people naturally tend to keep less distance than introverts. It doesn't mean that's good, it means that extroverts will get along fine with other extroverts and probably annoy the introverts.

Trough observation for long time, I realized many people select to sit the endmost seat ( wall side)I think the reason is people feel protected by wall or barrier.  In addition, most people do not sit down in the vicinity of the others, leave spaces one seat or more. I think it because  people feel uncomfortable to be invaded their personal spaces any time and they want to keep their private spaces, and also people who came after the place, hesitate to sit in the space  between the people.It was interesting awareness. 









 Personal Distance - Divided by Zones

Edward T. Hall (1914-2009) was an American anthropologist who developed the concept of 'Proxemics'. He made a lot of research about how we divide our personal distance, how it's affected by our culture and what is the difference between personal space and territory. He made a lot of intercultural studies and observation .He concluded that there is a direct correlation between social standings and physical distances between people. It means that when you consider someone to be in your 'friend's zone' you literally prefer him in a certain distance, away from your intimate space, but close enough to be a friend.So he divided the personal distance we keep from other into 4 main zones. These zones serve as 'reaction bubbles' – when you enter a specific zone, you automatically activate certain psychological and physical reactions in that person. Keep in mind, these zones serve as general guidelines. They vary and affected by many factors, most importantly by the context of your culture. So don't niggle about every cm (or inch) – get the main idea and see how that works in your culture.

personal distance zones

The Zones

Public Distance Zone

It's the most outer 'bubble' and is usually larger than 3.6 meters (approx. 12 feet). This zone is reserved for public speaking, or generally, when talking to a large group. It's just feels much comfortable to address a large group from a distance – it's as if you consider the whole group as one individual with a great amount of personal space. This is comfortable for the audience too – they all get to see you (and hopefully hear you well enough too).This zone is also great for general observation of other people without really interacting with them. A neutral zone so to say. Imagine, for example, that you found someone attractive and you look at them from this far distance – it's probably OK and perhaps even flattering for them. Getting closer and stare, though, can send chills down their spine. 

public distance


Social Distance Zone

This space is between 1.5 – 3 meters (5 – 10 feet). It's the most neutral and comfortable zone to start a conversation between people who don't know each other well. It's the distance you keep from strangers that you may have some interaction with them like: shopkeepers, clerks in the bank and other sales or service providers.Sometimes you will find that this distance is actually shorter, especially in a sitting scenario. The explanation I find most fitting to this behavior is that in those cases there is usually some kind of an artificial barrier between you and the stranger – a desk or some board/book/paper you or they hold. This barrier helps to relax and maintain the comfort zone and in the meanwhile allows you to be in closer proximity to discuss and examine details.

social distance

Personal Distance Zone

Ranges from 60cm to 1.5 meters (2-5 feet).This space is reserved for friends and family – people you know and trust. It's an easy and relaxed space for talking, shaking hands, gesturing and making faces.Now, there's also some division inside this personal space, it depends on personal preferences and affection. The guideline here is this: the more you like someone – the closer you'll stand to him. I've talked about leaning forward in positive body language posture article, and the main idea is that leaning forward towards someone usually show's interest, affection and it builds rapport.  If possible, you should avoid getting too close to prevent invading personal space. But getting closer, in unacceptable level, shows that you like the other person. So you start the magical circle of rapport – they see that you like them, they like that you like them and in turn they will like you back. (so many likes..!)



Intimate Distance Zone

Ranges from direct contact to 60 cm (2 feet).Obviously it's the space reserved only for the most trusted and loved in our social circles: partners and siblings. It doesn't mean that we're offended by a friend's hug or anything, only it's going to be brief and less intimate.This space (especially the 15 cm (1/2 foot) zone bubble) is like a private bubble of breathing space, almost as an extension of our body. When someone is getting that close, our body and mind automatically reacts – it's being put on flight or fight mode. If it's someone acceptable in our most inner circle – we relax and enjoy the intimacy, but if the presence is unwelcome, we will shut down and try to retain somehow our comfort zone. Some people use "power plays" to invade that space and to take advantage of this state of confusion and vulnerability. For example, one of the popular interrogation techniques is to intimidate the suspect by getting very close to invade his intimate zone. Then, while he's helpless, try to exploit his vulnerability and discomfort to extract information.Another optional interpretation for getting this close is: sexual advancement (or a faked sexual interest – to seduce and manipulate) –it's an indication that the other party wants more than a mere friendship – they want intimacy.


Intimate Crowd

What about crowded conditions? Like when standing in a full elevator or bus? A crowded concert or a long line in the DMV office? While we certainly don't feel very comfortable in these situations, we're not on our edge either, so what really happen?Obviously we don't welcome these strangers to our intimate zone by will, but on the other hand we know that we have no choice in that matter and neither do them. So our brain found an elegant solution – we avoid treating them as other individuals in an act called dehumanization. Since we subconsciously choose to 'ignore' them as human beings, to feel more secure about ourselves, we automatically avoid any human contact with them:

  •   We avoid eye contact –staring at the ceiling or floor.
  •   We wear blank face expressions.
  •   We make the minimal movements and gestures possible to avoid contact

That's why crowded public spaces often viewed as cold and distant, there is a big contrast between having so much people in one place and so little human contact. But that's understandable, since we don't have much choice in that matter – we just don't feel secure enough surrounded by strangers standing so close.If you're bold or adventurous enough you can try making eye contact and smile (or express some other human quality) while 'stuck' in such crowded situation. I bet you'll find it extremely awkward and the results varied: some will meet you with a bewildered, frightened face "what do you want, psycho?" kind of thing, others may send you a smile back… (:

I observed only personals paces of public distance zone.  I realised a lot of aspects of personal spaces by this article , so, If I decided to design furniture, I will consider about these phycology.